The 3 “Hidden” Opportunities In Volunteering That Boosted My Resume Better Than Any Job
Early into my career, I realized that my job, though fascinating, didn’t provide many of the skills I was hoping to gain in the workplace. Although my work taught me to own my projects, improved my presentation style, and cultivated a strong data-driven writing style, I felt a distinct lack of group work, collaboration, and mentorship. Moreover, my role wasn’t as closely tied to social impact as I had envisioned during the interview process. I soon turned to volunteering to appease my need to do more social good, taking advantage of the generous work-life balance I possessed.
While many volunteer experiences can be a one-off, such as stopping by a soup kitchen or helping out at a food bank, I sought specific experiences, like board opportunities or high-impact longer-term projects, which could really help me to network and cultivate the skills I felt like were missing from my resume.
Here are a few of those opportunities below:
Not many people realize, but you don’t have to have money or influence to join the Board of Directors of a nonprofit organization. Through BoardMatch, I identified local organizations whose work I wanted to support and whose mission resonated with me. Upon joining the board, I found that I was able to swiftly rise within the ranks and take on leadership roles— an opportunity I lacked in the workplace, given my company’s rigid hierarchical structure.
As a member of the board, I interviewed stakeholders, spoke to large donors, and honed my financial skills while maintaining oversight of the organization’s budget. I was able to work with other board members on projects, such as improving the nonprofit’s commitment to antiracism, and I cultivated personal growth through training, as well.
These skills allowed me to push for more client-facing roles at my company since I felt a renewed sense of comfort representing an organization and talking it up. When I approached my boss to request more opportunities to speak with clients, he offered me a short trial period and I was able to prove myself up to the task due to the practice I had from my board experiences. I didn’t specifically seek out these board opportunities because I knew, beforehand, that I wanted more client-facing interactions, but my volunteer experiences allowed me to recognize the direction I hoped to push my career in.
Every nonprofit organization is structured differently and on my journey to join a Board of Directors, I wound up joining smaller committees within an organization, too. As part of these committees, I was responsible for hosting multiple events, from securing venues to requesting corporate donations and even leading conversation groups, I acquired a set of skills I didn’t realize I would need. In part, though, I also developed stronger leadership qualities. I grew accustomed to delegating roles so that the project would be completed on time and I learned to work with people whose personalities and strengths differed greatly from mine.
In my day job, I tend to work alone—research is lonely and self-motivated—but these volunteer experiences allowed me to display a new set of skills in the workplace. This led to my getting assigned to lead specific projects, as I had done during my volunteer work, too, and I relished the opportunity to show off my confidence in leading a project in front of my boss and older peers.
Finally, my diverse volunteer experiences have allowed me to expand my network. I moved across the country two years ago and knew practically no one. By volunteering extensively, however, I’ve met others who are passionate about social impact too, and I’ve cultivated a network of people I can rely on for a career shift into the impact-oriented space. Given the solitary nature of my job, it’s been hard to network within my company. As such, I identified this gap and sought to fill it within a field that I knew I’d love to eventually break into.
The best part is that you can volunteer practically anywhere, which means that regardless of the field you hope to someday work in, the chances are high that you can find an opportunity to volunteer, gain experience for your resume that you can discuss during an interview, and make contacts who can help you via LinkedIn or other job sites. In my experience, volunteering can both further your current career in providing shifts into opportunities you hope to cultivate in the workplace and it can also give you a window into what working in another industry might look like. What’s more, with volunteering, you choose how you spend your time. That’s not always the case at a job, where often the work isn’t as glamorous as it’s presented, so the added bonus to volunteering is that it’s an opportunity to discover how you like to spend your time when there are practically infinite possibilities at your disposal—in other words, I’ve found that volunteering is a hidden method to uncover your “dream job” or the type of work that instills purpose and makes you feel fulfilled.
Ultimately, I don’t think too many people think about volunteering as a means to an end. And while, certainly, volunteering should be fun and mission-drive, it can also be a resume boost that helps fill in the gaps in your skillset that your current job might not be able to do.
Keertana Anandraj is a recent college grad living in San Francisco. When she isn’t conducting international macroeconomic research at her day job, you can find her in the spin room or planning her next adventure.
Image via Unsplash