In today’s society, many college graduates face the Catch-22 of work experience: to get a job, you need work experience, and to get work experience, you need a job. Otherwise, a pattern has emerged in which many graduates are either unemployed or underemployed for their skillsets and degree specialization. The prospects appear bleak for further advancement in their career of interest.
What if I told you, though, that there is a workaround? And what if I told you that that workaround is something you’ve known all along?
According to employers, the answer is volunteering.
But wait a minute. Isn’t volunteering just like working for free? Why would I want to spend my time and money volunteering when I need to find some way to put food on the table? My budget is tight enough as it is already.
While the returns on volunteering may not seem obvious, volunteering can actually lead to that coveted position later down the road. A research study conducted by the Corporation for National and Community Service shows that volunteering can actually help land that dream job. The report concluded that those who volunteered were 27% more likely to get hired than those who didn’t. As cited in the study, Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis stated that “Volunteerism can be a way to help unemployed workers expand their network of contacts, improve their résumés, and make a positive impression in a competitive job market.” And the returns are not only financial, but studies show that volunteering is beneficial for one’s physical and mental health.
Without further ado, here are seven hidden returns of volunteering:
- Learn new skills. Volunteering is a great way to acquire new skills and gain deeper insight into an industry. With a nod to Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule of “deliberate practice,” volunteering gives you a headstart in working toward mastery in a certain trade. It can also introduce you to company practices, providing you with an inside look at how an organization is run and operated.
- Develop your network. Professionals in your target industry are powerful sources of advice and access to information on future opportunities. Volunteering presents a chance to make new contacts and interact with those who share your career interests. While volunteering, you can build relationships and expand your professional network. As an added bonus, if you perform well, your supervisor may agree to be a future reference.
- Practice leadership. What better chance to explore new roles and try out new activities? By taking on additional responsibility, you can exercise leadership abilities that equip you for positions that call for a greater need of skills in direction.
- Improve job prospects. As shown by the study referenced, employers value candidates with volunteer experience, which can be added to your resume. Better yet, if the organization likes you, then you may even snag a position there. Volunteering is the next best thing to an internship and can even supplement your personal brand.
- Build your personal brand. This goes with the principle above. You can add volunteer experience to your resume and LinkedIn profile to enhance your personal brand. Many employers value a spirit of volunteerism and commitment to causes. Additionally, showing that you are an active and frequent volunteer can reflect positively on your character and who you are as a person.
- Get a sense of the current industry environment. During the process of volunteering, you can get a better sense of the field and company culture. Volunteering can help you determine the fit between you and your target industry and whether it is one you want to enter.
- Make you happier. A study carried out by the London School of Economics demonstrates that volunteering can make you happier. The act of volunteering can promote personal well-being and offer a sense of meaning and fulfillment. So an extended life, better health, and happiness? Sign me up please!