Leveraging Volunteering for Career Growth


There are different schools of thought to what volunteering means and there are different definitions too. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a “volunteer” as a person who voluntarily undertakes or expresses a willingness to undertake a service.

To volunteer means to show interest in doing a task, or rendering a service over a period of time without an intention to get paid or getting any other reward. Does this mean that there is no benefit for people who volunteer?

There are numerous benefits that come with volunteering, but volunteers often than not don’t always think about these benefits when getting into it. Also, the benefits of volunteering aren’t fixed and can be in different forms.

Volunteering can be for different reasons, but we’ll be looking at it from the career growth perspective. When you intend to volunteer as a means to foster your career growth, there are some specific measures you will put in place before starting because you have a purpose or goal in mind.

For career growth, you can decide to volunteer at or with:

  • A private company
  • An institution
  • A government or public agency
  • An international or local organization
  • Non Governmental Organizations
  • On a community development project
  • Career related events

Any of these places can be a good fit for you to utilize the skills and abilities you possess towards giving value and getting value that will translate to career growth in return.

When you volunteer, you are not working for free, you are working for a value which might not always be monetary. Value might be an experience, exposure, feedback, human networking, track record, etc. What different people want at different phases of their career differs.

Highlighted below are some of the benefits and values that will be added to you when you choose to volunteer and how these benefits translate to career growth for you:

  • Acquire New Skills: Working as a volunteer exposes you to some work challenges and you are expected to complete certain tasks you might not be familiar with. The process of working on these tasks will help you acquire new skills that can either be specific for that role or even transferable.
  • Utilize Existing Skills: Volunteering gives you the platform to utilize existing skills you possess. It gives you the platform to translate those skills to value.
  • Meet People: Volunteering takes you to places and in these places you will meet people. You will have the opportunity to build interpersonal relationships with a good number of people.
  • Overcome Fear: There’s a certain pressure that comes with getting paid for a job if you do not have ample experience in carrying out that particular task. As a volunteer, you do not have the “money pressure” and you have more room to make mistakes and learn from them. This is not an excuse to not give your best when you volunteer, it just makes you work without the fear that comes with making mistakes or not delivering up to an expected standard.
  • Build Credible Track Record: You’ve been there done that, you have delivered results and given value over time and you have people who can testify to your abilities and the results you delivered. A credible track record over time is pivotal for career growth and volunteering gives you that.
  • Work Experience: Mostly for young professionals, volunteering can help cure the “No experience” syndrome on your CV. You get to have a work experience that you can boldly put on your CV to show your future recruiters the work you’ve done in the past.

To begin your volunteering journey, you’ll need to first learn and acquire a skill, irrespective of how low your proficiency is. There must be something you have to offer for you to get considered.

Then you should learn to reach out and apply with tenacity. Through different means, reach out to organizations and individuals in a formal way. Stating that you want to volunteer for a period of time and the value you have to offer. You will get some NO and a couple of Yes, keep applying and don’t give up because of negative feedback.

However, when you get that opportunity, make sure you go into that space and give value. Don’t work like you are earning little or nothing, work like you’re earning a lot. Give your 100% and be of good character.

Transitioning from being a volunteer to a paid staff is another peculiar phase for young professionals. This phase comes with its own challenges too, but you can navigate through it using some of the information I put in this article.