Volunteering and Resumes

national volunteer week promotion

7 Ways Volunteering Can Help You In Your Job Search

Blogpost by Karen Jansen

April 20, 2023


National Volunteer Week is April 16-22. This year's theme is "Volunteering Weaves Us Together" to reflect the value of volunteering in building our community connections.


It almost goes without saying that there are clear benefits to the community when people volunteer their time. Many community-serving organizations rely on their volunteer labour force to provide services to the community that they simply could not afford to do without volunteers. This allows cash-strapped organizations the ability to stretch their dollars to expand their capacity and support more people.

Besides the benefit to the community, people often choose to volunteer for personal benefit, such as increased self-esteem, satisfaction and social connections. But did you know that volunteering is a great strategy for the jobseeker? Here are the top seven reasons you may want to consider volunteering to help you in your job search.

Volunteering can....

Give you a chance to build experience and skills that you were missing.
Experience and skills gained in a volunteer position count every bit as much as those gained in an employment setting in a resume. Think about your employment goals, and seek out targeted volunteer experience that align with those goals. If you are lucky, some volunteer-work even provides on-the-job training in exchange for your labour.

Be a way to trial an industry you are interested in.
Even if the position you are working in as a volunteer is not exactly the one you would want to be hired for as an employee, being on the ground in the work setting allows you to see the day-to-day operations and challenges of that position and industry to determine if this is an area of long-term interest for you. Obviously, this advice comes with the caveat that there are some occupations where this wouldn’t work as well as others. It will be as you are narrowing down your employment goals, that you can determine if volunteering is a viable resource to you to “try on” the careers you are interested in.

Fill gaps in your resume.
Reportedly, many automated applicant sorting systems look for gaps in your employment history as an applicant elimination tactic. Volunteer work is absolutely considered work and can be used to fill in gaps in your employment history if you were volunteering during that time. Be transparent that these stints of time were volunteer gigs, so once a human sees the resume, you present as above-board in your employment history.

Help build your professional network.
While some volunteering positions can turn into a paid gig, this is not the only possibility for the jobseeker. As you volunteer you will likely meet people along the way, and importantly, these people will see you in a work setting. All these people can become part of your network: they may be hiring themselves, or know about a position, and, if their experience with you has been positive, they may see you as a good fit and/or recommend you. It is important to leverage the power of your network: Research indicates that up to 70% of available jobs may never be posted on an online job board and as many as 85% of hirings come about as a result of networking. The more people you know, particularly in industries you are interested in, the more likely you will be able to access the so-called hidden job market.

If your new network cannot connect you directly to a potential job position, they are also a great resource for you to ask for a reference. Even if the job you are applying for may not align with the job description of your volunteer position, your co-volunteers or supervisors will be able to speak to many of the salient features that employers look for, such as punctuality, resourcefulness, reliability, leadership, ability to work unsupervised and more.

Be a mental health break when you are looking for work.
It is no secret that looking for work is difficult and demoralizing and can result in job search depression. Volunteering may be a great way for you to break up your day, get you out of the house, and feel an emotional boost from helping your community. If the work that you are doing as a volunteer feels important and impactful, it can help the discouraged jobseeker combat common feelings of shame and uselessness that can be overwhelming for some while looking for work. And, because it is a very helpful job seeking tactic, it can be another way to feel proactive in your job search, which can also improve your mental health.

Keep your skills current.
If you are out of work, and you are worried that your skills are getting rusty, volunteering to work in your industry until you can find a paid gig is a great way to keep your edge.

Look great on a resume and in your cover letter.
Many organizations are not only looking for skills and qualifications, they are also often looking for less measurable qualities that add up to a great cultural fit. Your choice to volunteer and what you choose to volunteer for can speak volumes about your character and the things that you value, which is something you absolutely should showcase in your cover letter when you make your case about why you should be hired.

If you want to volunteer, and you are stumped about how to go about finding an opportunity, you can check out online hubs of volunteer opportunities, such as Volunteer Connector. Organizations seeking volunteers post their opportunity there, and you can filter for sectors and activities in order to find the right fit for you. https://www.volunteerconnector.org.

But if you do not find a great fit there, you can always approach organizations that you are interested in directly via their website. Many charitable organizations post their employment opportunities on their websites, but you can also email them to see if they have any opportunities that have not been posted.

Good luck, and Happy volunteering!

If you or someone you know is having a hard time finding work, OSP can help! Contact us at programs@osp.ab.ca or 488-8122.

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