By Jenny Han Simon
Aside from the wholesome benefits one may yield through volunteer work, volunteering offers young professionals many advantages in their quests to build a better resume, gain more experience, and begin to make their way in the world. Volunteering is not a “noble” yet ultimately fruitless endeavor, even if it may not seem as official as an internship or generate income like a job does. In fact, a volunteer position may actually serve young professionals better than expected, help shape professional ambitions, and encourage the development of a wide skillset.
1. Gaining insight into your future career
Volunteering requires less commitment in terms of time and expected tasks than a job does, making it the perfect way for you to explore a new field without having to commit to it. Often, we have many interests and desire to explore them all, though what we get to major in or find a job in is more limited in reality.
For instance, if you majored in Economics but have always been passionate about air pollution and climate change, you may feel your future options are limited to finding a job that utilizes your expertise in economics. However, volunteering with an organization devoted to tackling climate change would let you lend your skills and knowledge in economics to where they’re needed in making an impact when it comes to climate change. Also, through volunteering, you may realize that your heart truly lies in your volunteer mission rather than what your resume would suggest. In this way, your volunteer experience would give you a plausible explanation and the experience necessary to change your career or study path.
2. Taking on a new role or learning a new skill
When you apply for a job or a fellowship, you often must prove that you have the experience and skills necessary to complete the requirements with little guidance or training. Alternatively, volunteering often offers a way for volunteers to try their hand in a new field, learn new skills from more experienced colleagues, and gain very real experience that is perfectly valid to be listed on a resume.
For example, in the organization I volunteer for—Breathe Mongolia—I initially only helped with grant writing and editing content, though I have since expanded my responsibilities to social media management and streamlining content production. Though I had no “real” experience in either domain prior to volunteering, I am quickly learning skills, techniques, and insights from fellow volunteers who do these things for a living or received a degree in a related field. Even though I may not have formally studied either of these things, I’m getting the opportunity to both learn and practice new skills, which may later land me a job that will pay me to do similar tasks.
3. Making connections
As with any professional opportunity you undertake—school, work, fellowships—one of the largest benefits will be the people you meet. People will often say, “It’s not what you know but who you know.” The same holds true for volunteer work, where you will often meet very skilled, experienced, and educated people who lend their time and efforts to an organization because it aligns with their interests outside of their primary obligations to their study or work. Through volunteering with an organization related to an issue you’re passionate about, you will meet people with similar interests as yourself, giving you the opportunity to grow your circle and your mindset. Even though you may not walk away from your volunteer role with a new best friend, you never know who may know about a job that’s hiring, tell you about a great graduate program, or even offer to personally recommend you for another opportunity. Likewise, you never know whose life you may change when you pass your own knowledge on to others.
4. Contributing to a worthy endeavor
Many people often think of volunteering as a wholly altruistic endeavor. Though this article highlights how volunteering can offer you benefits directly tied to increasing your competitiveness when applying for a job or to school, the act of volunteering is still a way in which you can help further a cause by just being you. The world is filled with many problems that cannot be solved in one day, one year, or even one decade, though we know money, time, and energy are some of the things that can lead to positive change. If you can’t offer your money to a cause you are passionate about, this doesn’t mean you’re incapable of partaking in or leading change. Your time, energy, and expertise are just as valuable, if not more. Through volunteering with an organization devoted to solving an issue you truly care about, not only will you be able to help shape the solution, but you can gain valuable and realistic insights into an issue and its potential solutions.
Along a similar albeit less noble vein of thought, the act of volunteering may change others’ perception of you in a positive way. Just as consumers admire companies who take the initiative to donate their money to charitable causes or use their voice and platform to point out various issues plaguing our world and lead a call to action, various organizations applaud—and seek to hire—individuals who also recognize problems and actively seek solutions to them. Writing about caring deeply about an issue in your personal statement is one thing, but being able to back that claim up with months or years of experience volunteering with an organization dedicated to that cause makes that statement more believable.
Though finding a volunteer opportunity may seem difficult, all it takes is a little bit of research and the initiative to reach out. Rather than waiting for your next clear professional experience to start, you can create an opportunity for yourself now by offering your services as a volunteer. For example, here are 10 Nonprofit Fellowships to jumpstart your search!
Jenny Han Simon currently lives in New York City. She was a Fulbright ETA in Mongolia (2019-2020) and a participant of the Critical Language Scholarship (2018). She graduated from the University at Buffalo in 2019 with a BA in English and Linguistics.
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