Build Your Network Through Volunteering
How to Meet People, Learn New Skills & Acquire Job Leads
How much time do you spend networking each month? An hour? Two hours? A whole day? How much time do you spend volunteering? Is it more or less than the time you spend networking?
What’s the difference between networking and volunteering? Networking expands your social and professional circle, but volunteering not only builds your network but also sharpens your skills and enhances your credibility. So why don’t more people volunteer as a way to grow their careers?
Most people say that they would like to volunteer if only they had the time. An old adage is that the time that you spend is based on the priority that you give it. If you’re looking for a job, volunteering allows you to be actively involved in worthwhile projects in addition to expanding not only your contacts but also your range of marketable skills.
Choosing an Organization
Nonprofit organizations and charities are usually the first groups to consider when searching for volunteer opportunities. Local chapters of national organizations are excellent vehicles for giving something back to your local community. Almost every nonprofit desperately needs support to fulfill their missions. Follow your passion or values when choosing.
Volunteering at a local or regional nonprofit can make an immediate difference in your area. If you’re committed to the cause, there are abundant opportunities for you to develop or further refine marketable skills. Being a part of a tangible result no only increases your self-esteem, but also builds your credibility and network. If the nonprofit is part of a national network, you can even become involved on a higher level.
Don’t forget to volunteer for committee chair or member positions in your professional association. In addition to getting to know others in your field (a real advantage when looking for employment), you will also expand your knowledge and understanding in your field. Active involvement continuously hones your skills and keeps you abreast of current challenges and emerging trends in your industry — an important consideration in building your career.
Donations may be the mainstay of nonprofits, but manpower is the grease that keeps the engine moving. Becoming a member of an organization does not have the same benefits as actively participating as a volunteer in your organization’s activities. Your ‘sweat equity’ is even more greatly valued that a simple financial contribution.
Getting involved is an active process. For example, instead of simply sponsoring a runner for a fundraising marathon, consider running yourself or, if this is not an option, sign up additional sponsors for your favorite runner. You can even volunteer to assist with registration and operations on the day of the event. In getting actively involved, you can develop sales, communication and organizational skills in a ways that you may not have been able in previous jobs. Plus others will notice your hard work — which can lead to job referrals.
Follow these tips to get the most out of volunteering:
- Don’t be the member who pays their dues but never attends meetings. Volunteer to be a committee member, sit on the Board of Directors or chair an event. You will learn important leadership and delegation skills and improve your management and problem-solving abilities.
- Take the initiative to streamline organizational or committee processes — then document the results. Did your marketing efforts increase attendance at an annual event? Did you develop a new system to streamline membership enrollment? Did you find a way to help warring members overcome their differences and commit to a common goal? All of these accomplishments are food for your resume — just because you didn’t get paid doesn’t mean that it is not valuable.
- Step up to a leadership role. Your work ethic, dedication, organization, enthusiasm and results will be noticed, enhancing your reputation and self-esteem. This added confidence can be the differentiating factor for a job candidate in the interview process.
- If you’re new to volunteering, start out small. But, as your confidence grows, become involved with larger projects such as annual conferences or board retreats. You’ll develop a wide range of skills that are highly desired by employers: leadership, organization, delegation, project management and sales.
- Be proud of and share your areas of expertise. Submit a proposal to present a workshop or donate an exhibit of interest to the group. Public speaking is a great way to prove your ability to speak intelligently and with authority on a subject — as a subject matter expert, you will be sought out for even more presentations. Your visibility as an expert in your field will be heightened and you’ll have more accomplishments to add to your resume.
The biggest disadvantrage of volunteering occurs when you become over-involved. There are only so many hours in a day and, despite how many activities compete for your attention, you can only commit to two or three at most. Over-committing leads to burnout, which leads to eventually resigning from all volunteer activities.
To avoid these negative results while continuing the positive benefits of volunteering, only volunteer for activities that fulfill these criteria: they are things about which you feel strongly AND they coincide with your professional and personal goals (which should be aligned if you are following the professional triad of job-career-vocation). Prioritizing avoids burnout.
Volunteering is a critical component in building a viable and diverse network. Active involvement creates opportunities to sharpen your skills, try something you’ve never done and expand your comfort zone. Volunteers combine community involvement, professional development and personal growth.
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