Volunteering: Your hidden lifeline

Have you seen those recent PSAs on television from iParticipate with various famous people, like Morgan Freeman, encouraging us to volunteer? They state that by helping others we help ourselves, our community, and our nation. (CLICK HERE to view one) It’s amazing but true, that volunteering can have such a strong impact on others and ourselves. Not only can it positively impact our health; it can also impact our career path.

Every time I talk to students about job searching, internships, resumes, and career development as a whole, I also ask about what types of volunteering they’ve done. Some are surprised to hear that volunteering can go on their resume, but most are surprised when I tell them that volunteering could be the thing that tips the scale in their favor when applying for jobs.

Can volunteering get you a job?  YES!

Maybe not in a direct way like internships can- nearly 80% of the time, but indirectly through networking and developing a focus for your career direction.  Let me share a couple stories of people who have utilized their volunteer activities in this way.

A college female was active with two campus organizations, one that had a focus on service and would ask the members to volunteer their time participating at soup kitchens, urban development, and service trips to Appalachia over spring break. She took advantage of these volunteering opportunities because she enjoyed giving back and many of her friends were also involved. Little did she know that six years later, those volunteer activities were exactly what she needed to gain an Outreach Coordinator position with a local non-profit, who had a strong presence on the local college campus, organizing volunteer activities.

A male in the military, with a focus on satellite communications and computers, decided to offer his free time and learn about a specific program that could benefit his current position but wasn’t required. When he was discharged and had to look for a civilian job, he of course applied to computer related positions. During an interview, for a potential job, the employer asked about his experience with that specific program.  He shared his knowledge and experience but also stated that he voluntarily learned the program and used his personal time to do so. He was offered the position.

What does volunteering really mean to employers?

When a potential employer sees volunteer activities on a resume they are able to distinguish a number of characteristics about that candidate. Here are a few that I’ve learned about over the years:

  1. Passion - You care about the community and other interests, and are not seeking a monetary reward in return.
  2. Above & Beyond – If you’re willing to donate your time to a cause, then it’s likely you’ll be willing to go above and beyond the call of duty for the job.
  3. Responsible - Volunteering shows that you feel responsible to contribute to a cause and this responsibility characteristic will flow into the work environment through strong business ethics.
  4. Confidentiality - If a job requires employees to hold confidentiality, many businesses look for volunteer activities on a resume as a means to validate that the candidate can respect this ethical guideline.
  5. Time Management – If you’re able to coordinate work, school, and volunteering then you’re not only a well-rounded person, but also someone who can manage their time well and keep track of a schedule.
  6. Positive Reputation – Many businesses encourage their employees to volunteer and give back to the community. This helps to increase a positive reputation of that business and thus increase customers and overall community interest in that business.

Choosing your volunteer efforts wisely

It’s important to volunteer for things that you enjoy and I believe that every volunteer activity is relevant and helpful when applying for jobs and networking. But, if you also consider your overall career goals and choose at least one activity that’s related to those goals then you’ll also gain relevant experience. Relevant experience is essentially what you need to make yourself competitive in this job market.

Consider volunteering as a supplement to your job searching. You may not get paid for doing the work, but you’re sending a strong message to potential employers. Volunteering says that you will not wait for things to happen, but will take the initiative to create positive happenings for yourself and those around you.


Karen is a Career Counselor and Internship Coordinator at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW). At IPFW she assists students in finding internships, coordinates and assists with campus-wide events, teaches a Career Planning course, and meets with students individually to assist them with all aspects of career development. Connect with Karen via LinkedIn or Twitter.

Related posts:

  1. Hidden Components of Job Searching
  2. Networking: The Golden Ticket to the Hidden Job Market
  3. The Benefits of Community Service

5 Responses to “Volunteering: Your hidden lifeline”

  1. As a student in marketing communications, I’ve found that most of the typical internships available to people in my field tend to involve running errands or doing sales. If these are not your long-term interests, and you aren’t specifically looking for a foot-in-the-door opportunity at whatever company is offering the position, then perhaps it’s a better idea to make an opportunity that allows you to develop and apply the skills that will be relevant to your future career choices. Volunteering your services to under-funded nonprofit organizations is the perfect opportunity to do so. Not only will you generally find yourself with fewer boundaries on what you can try your hand at, but you get to help a good cause while you’re building your portfolio.

  2. Steph,
    I completely agree. Not every internship is exactly what every intern wants and it’s always good to seek out ways to gain experience elsewhere. Volunteering your skills with a nonprofit is a good option because they are always grateful for the help and it gives you the option to improve your skills and portfolio at the same time. Most nonprofits usually have a need for direct assistance with serving clients but can also use help with behind-the-scenes work, like marketing, grant writing, and fundraising. Thank you for such a strong and important message.

  3. I agree totally that volunteering is great and also comes with benfits. Because i am a formall Girl scout and red cross, volunteer which i now can say heping my city by doing just the little things can make a big inpact on a chids life or anyones people will help people who are trying to help others thats why i find enjoyment helping out at my local childerns muesum.

  4. Rachel – Congratulations on finding volunteer opportunities that you’re excited about. This is key! Not just looking at volunteering as a means to improve your resume, but because it’s something you’re passionate about and you sincerely want to help.

  5. avatar james says:

    i agree volunteering is great and comes with many aoppertunities

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