Career Advice: Get Out and Volunteer!

You might be thinking, “Wait, did I just read that right? You want me to volunteer?!” Yes, that’s right. Put in some volunteer time. Choose a company where you’d like to work and offer to volunteer your time for them.

Why volunteer my services?

Volunteering your time to work for a company or non-profit organization helps build your skills and allows you the opportunity to gain on-the-job experience. Many students don’t realize that a “volunteer” internship can be just as valuable as a “paid” internship. Yes, that’s right. There are some great companies and organizations that will allow you to work for them as a volunteer. In many cases, you might volunteer for a designated time frame and then, if a position becomes available, you could be offered a job.

These volunteer opportunities are great for students who decide not to move away from home to complete an internship or had trouble finding a paid one. Instead, they can gain the same experiences by volunteering their time.

Last summer my son wanted to do something during the weeks that he did not have summer camp, and so I pushed him to volunteer at the local library. He loved it. The point to remember is this: the entry level job market and the paid internship market are so competitive that opportunities may not be jumping out at you. So, why not look to gain relevant work experience that often will far exceed the pay benefits?

Keep your eye on the future

As a recruitment professional, I find that I am most intrigued when I review a student’s resume that lists a tremendous amount of experience that includes volunteer work for 25-40 hours per week. I want to tell you that working is working, regardless if it’s labeled an “internship” or a “job” that you held between semesters or while on break. The same skills are learned whether you are being paid or not.

How to find a non-paid position

To start, you must figure out what would make you happy and what you expect to gain from the experience:

  • Ask professors, friends, neighbors and your parents if they know of companies in your area that have a volunteer program.
  • Research the company and seek out the name of the manager or director of the department where you’d like to work. Look for career information pages on company websites and then seek out contacts via telephone, e-mail, Twitter, LinkedIn or even Facebook. Many companies make it easy for you to network with their employees. For example, Sodexo’s Network with Us page provides access to all of our websites and social media profiles.
  • Contact the manager/director and send your resume to him or her as well as a letter explaining what you are trying to do, your availability and willingness to learn.
  • Utilize social media to assist you. Post on your status that you are looking for a volunteer opportunity, seek out recruiters and other professionals at companies where you’d like to work and let them know of your interest for an internship – paid or not paid.

What are the real benefits of volunteering?

  • You can potentially set your own schedule.
  • You have the opportunity to prove yourself and demonstrate your skills, thereby becoming highly valued and respected. As a result, the company may be willing to create a paid position for you at a later time.
  • This is a great way to explore different careers to see what you will really enjoy.
  • This is a tremendous way to network and make connections that can lead to permanent paid employment.
  • It’s a great way to build your self-esteem and self-confidence.
  • It’s an opportunity to discover your strengths and talents – perhaps even some that you didn’t know you had.
  • You can raise your social awareness.
  • You can interact with a diverse group of people.
  • You can experience challenging and fulfilling opportunities.

Where does volunteer work fit in my job search?

Volunteer work helps build your experience, making you a more attractive candidate to potential employers. So, be sure to document your experience on your resume! Just because you weren’t paid for your work doesn’t mean it wasn’t a valuable experience that demonstrates your abilities. Include your title, responsibilities and accomplishments. Describe the experience through the knowledge and skills that you gained.

Volunteering has tremendous benefits that will allow you to move forward in your career. You will gain valuable insights that once shared, will push others to follow the same path. Good luck!


Derren is the Manager, Diversity Recruiting for Sodexo which is a leader in integrated food service and facilities management. He is responsible for managing the Sodexo Future Leaders Internship Program as well as executing diversity sourcing initiatives for both campus and targeted experienced hires. With over 14+ years of experience with Sodexo, Derren has had great success as a General Manager in the company’s Health Care Services division as well as in several positions within their Talent Acquisition Group. He’s an active corporate partner with the National Society of Minorities in Hospitality (NSMH). Derren is an AIRS Certified Diversity Recruiter (CDR) and Certified Internet Recruiter (CIR). Follow him on Twitter, friend him on Facebook, or just Network with Us.

Related posts:

  1. Volunteer Your Way into a Job
  2. Career and Branding Advice I’m Liking Lately
  3. Think Different: Career Advice from Steve Jobs

One Response to “Career Advice: Get Out and Volunteer!”

  1. avatar Ange S says:

    Great post! I found out really last second I was going to spend the summer in Canada and didn’t have time to solidify a job or hired internship. I walked around the neighborhood and found a Caring Place that had dozens of non-profits and instead of sitting around miserable, I strolled right in and asked if I could volunteer! I’ll be starting as an administrative assistant at the Heart and Stroke Foundation of BC and Yukon next semester and I’m really excited! I’ll get experience in an office environment, in a non-profit, and didn’t have to go through a tedious interview process and got to pick my own hours!

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