Whether it is reaching out to your community or that do-good feeling, there are multiple benefits to volunteering. As you prepare for your career, volunteering can be a valuable resource for exploring an area of interest, or a good way to step out of your comfort zone.
You have decided that you would like to get involved, but you are not sure how to find service opportunities. Well, you have a few options…
Sites like volunteermatch.org compile postings for volunteer opportunities in your area. You can create an account and sign up for opportunities through the site. Colleges often have similar databases where you can not only sign up for volunteer positions, but also log your hours. A print out of your logged hours can come in handy for any situation where you need to prove your level of involvement, particularly if it is a future employer.
Look around for volunteer opportunities by doing a Google search for your city. Researching nonprofits in your area can also be helpful because nonprofits are always looking for and appreciative of volunteers.
Sometimes, finding the opportunities is easy. The next challenge? Making the most of your time. Here are some other ways that you can make volunteering a learning experience that works for you:
Opportunity to explore career options
Use volunteering as a trial period for your career interests. This gives you an idea of what to expect from a potential career area or environment. Investigate a certain type of environment and discover the realities of a job by choosing a service opportunity that follows your interests. Maybe you would find that you were right about your career goals. Or maybe you would end up rethinking your career choice as you see the career from a different angle. For example, someone who wants to become a librarian because they would like a nice, quiet job that requires minimum interaction with people could greatly benefit from volunteering for a public library. They would discover something unexpected: librarians constantly work with people and technology, providing customer service and assistance whenever needed. After talking more with the librarians about the pros and cons of their jobs, they may decide that perhaps becoming a librarian is not for them. Finding this out sooner rather than later could save a lot of time and headaches. Volunteering and exposing yourself to an environment can help you gain self-awareness to make better decisions in the future.
Reaching out to individuals and organizations in the community is great for building your network. Supervisors that you forge a relationship with and volunteer for can become great references in the future. If you plan on going into the non-profit sector in particular, realize that the organization could become your future workplace after college. Volunteering your time with an organization could turn into a future job if there is an opening at the appropriate moment. If you already have a good relationship, then you could be an easy fit. Additionally, by volunteering for one non-profit, you could look very good to a future employer that is also in the same sector. At the very least, you could meet some new people and make friends.
Build some confidence
Reaching out to strangers can be intimidating, especially for shy types. Perhaps making an inquiry and contacting someone you do not know is a new experience for you. Yes, it can be nerve-racking to put yourself out there and ask to volunteer. However, remember that organizations are grateful for help and that your initiative should be greeted with positive enthusiasm.
On another note, working diligently at this service opportunity will increase your comfort level with the type of work you are doing. Hopefully, you can come away with some great skills…
Build skills that are valuable
Often, regular volunteer commitments will count as experience. If you are learning new skills during your service, this is particularly valuable, as you can talk about this in an interview.
Give yourself a break
Participating in service activities offer a chance to get away from schoolwork and do something new and meaningful. Aside from being beneficial professionally, there are emotional benefits abound, and you could find volunteering therapeutic.
And of course, the obvious:
Volunteering builds your resume!
We all know that volunteering in college does the resume good. It can help fill in any gaps on your resume. A volunteer experience can also show others what you care about. Volunteer experiences are great talking points for a future job interview. Employers will be interested in how you spend your time away from school, and where you volunteer can say a lot about your focus and personality. Some employers like to see that you are self-motivated and take your own initiative. Others like to see that you are well rounded and consider volunteer experiences a good indicator. That being said, volunteer experience is always considered an asset to your education and skill development. So get out there and go for it!