While there's no doubt that volunteering is a good way to give back to the community and promote a worthwhile cause, it doesn't have to be all about what you can do for others. Volunteering is also a rewarding experience for the volunteer. From learning new skills to meeting new people, there's plenty to be gained.
Here are a number of ways that volunteering can benefit you and improve your career prospects:
Acquire new skills
Volunteering gives you the opportunity to hone new skills and to gain experience in a field that interests you.
If you are just starting out, volunteering is a really good way for you to get a taste of the world of work. Volunteers are often exposed to a range of typical workplace activities and challenges such as teamwork, communication, problem solving, project planning, task management, and organization.
Beyond this though, volunteering can also offer you the opportunity to learn more specific skills that are tailored to the sector you want to work in. Just because this work is unpaid, doesn't mean that the skills you learn are irrelevant. In fact, some volunteer programmes even include extensive training.
The range of opportunities on offer is endless - everything from sports coach to museum guide - so finding something in a specific area you're interested in shouldn't be too challenging.
You can't get the job without experience - but you can't get experience without the job, right? Wrong! But it can be frustrating if you think you're coming up against this Catch 22 during your job hunt. This needn't be the case.
Volunteering is a great way to overcome this frustration and to gain some of the skills that employers may be looking for. Not only does it help you to prepare for work in a general sense, it's also a great way to equip yourself with the skills companies look for and so increase your chances of getting hired in the first place.
Identifying gaps in the experience listed on your CV can help you to decide which voluntary opportunities will be most useful to you, and help to make you more desirable for prospective employers.
Volunteering is also an ideal way to test out your abilities and to find out what it's like to work in a particular field. Volunteers get the chance to try out a new career, without making a long-term commitment.
Succeed at interview
In a competitive job market, it's important for prospective employers to see what it is that makes you stand out from the crowd. Volunteering is the perfect way to differentiate yourself from other candidates.
Demonstrating that you take part in meaningful activities in your spare time creates a positive impression, and that will make a big difference when applying for a job. In fact, research indicates that employers are more likely to hire someone who has done voluntary work, than someone who hasn't.
Voluntary work testifies to your dedication to a worthy cause and willingness to learn new skills, both things that will really tip the scales when it comes down to hiring decisions.
Meet new people and make contacts
Many job opportunities can arise through people you know. Volunteering often leads to permanent work, as it enables you to meet new people and make contacts in a sector you'd like to work in.
Don't underestimate the relationships you build by volunteering. It often goes beyond just personal networking, and as you're likely to meet like-minded people, friendships can be found too. The people you meet can help you to find new opportunities in the future, and when such positions do crop up, you may already be front-of-mind.
As well as expanding your network of contacts, your volunteer work might also expose you to relevant internship opportunities and professional organisations that could provide the next stepping-stone to further your career.
Feel great about yourself
It might seem obvious, but don't overlook the feel-good factor of giving your time to a good cause. Making a valuable contribution is a great way to feel fantastic about yourself.
It's been suggested that volunteers are happier, healthier and have an improved sense of self-worth. The confidence you will gain from making others and yourself smile will extend into other areas of your life too.
If you've been holding back on making that career change, or going for that promotion at work, then volunteering could provide you with the self-esteem boost you need to finally make the leap.
If you're interested in volunteering and want to find more information Local Volunteer Centres, Charity Advisors and online services (such as do-it.org.uk) can provide advice and help you to find opportunities that match your requirements. Alternatively you can browse voluntary jobs on reed.co.uk now.