Many people get volunteer experience pursuing their passions before they're employed and throughout their careers. Volunteering can be personally and professionally enriching. Volunteer efforts also help businesses, charities and local communities. In this article, we explain what volunteer experience is, how it benefits you, how to get volunteer experience and how to promote this experience.
What is volunteer experience?
Volunteer experience is any unpaid time spent working with businesses, charities or community groups. During volunteer experience, you may work with paid employees, other volunteers or both. Volunteer experience may directly relate to your career path or allow you to explore a personal passion. Common volunteer opportunities include:
- Work experience for a business in your field
- Reading to children in schools
- Serving in canteens for local sports groups
- Being a volunteer firefighter or emergency services worker
- Walking dogs for animal shelters
- Cleaning up rubbish in local parks or beaches
- Fundraising for charity groups
- Preparing and serving meals at homeless shelters
- Entertaining residents at aged care homes
- Distributing pamphlets for local politicians
The benefits of volunteer experience
Getting a volunteer experience can greatly benefit you professionally and personally. While volunteer experiences are diverse, the benefits they bring participants are very similar.
Career benefits of volunteer experience
Getting volunteer experience is a great way to prepare yourself for your career and make yourself more attractive to potential employers. Volunteer experience can benefit your career in the following ways:
- It teaches and develops skills. All volunteer experiences develop soft skills including communication, time management and problem-solving. Volunteering within your desired industry can also teach you job-specific hard skills, such as how to use common computer programs and food safety procedures.
- It lets you test out your intended career. Volunteering within your intended field can let you try jobs you're interested in before entering the paid workforce. Volunteering will show you whether you will love a particular career or you're better suited to another role.
- It can separate you from other job candidates. Many people applying for jobs in your chosen field will hold similar qualifications. Your volunteer experience can differentiate you from these other candidates and make you seem more appealing.
- It may provide networking opportunities. When volunteering in your chosen field, you will meet people who could help you secure paid work. These people may provide positive references or hire you.
Social benefits of volunteer experience
Volunteering is an excellent way to meet and interact with people in your community. Volunteer experience has the following social benefits:
- It helps you make new friends. Volunteering brings people with shared interests together, so it's a great way to make new friends. Your volunteer experience may introduce you to great people outside your regular social circle. Working together can help you build your bonds.
- It increases your social skills. Volunteering is a social experience, encouraging communication and collaboration. Practising these skills helps you become better at socialising.
- It helps you feel connected to your community. Volunteering in your community helps you feel connected to the place you live in. This sense of connection fosters pride in your local area and encourages you to keep contributing to its success.
Personal benefits of volunteer experience
Volunteer experience can also benefit your personal health and well-being. Volunteer experience has the following personal benefits:
- It boosts your self-esteem. Volunteers often feel more confident as they gain new skills and see the difference they're making.
- It makes your life more fun. Volunteer experience lets you pursue your passions or areas of interest, so it can be very enjoyable. Having fun regularly through volunteering can make your life more fulfilling.
- It gives your life purpose. Without financial motivation, volunteering focuses on helping your community and its organisations. Helping others adds meaning to your life.
- It can reduce stress and anxiety. People appreciate volunteers and the work they do. Feeling valued for your volunteer experience can reduce the stress and anxiety you may feel in your life.
- It can improve your health. Volunteering is often physical work, so getting involved is a great way to improve your health and fitness levels.
How to get volunteer experience
Businesses, charities and community groups often look for volunteers to help them operate successfully on a budget. These steps will help you secure volunteer experience that interests you:
1. Decide what sort of volunteer experience you want
Ask yourself what kind of volunteer experience will make you happiest and help you further your career. Considering the following may help you decide what type of volunteer job would suit you best:
- What you are passionate about
- What your values are and which groups align with them
- Whether you want to volunteer in your chosen field
- Whether you want to work indoors or outside
- Whether you enjoy working with animals, children or the elderly
- The organisations seeking volunteers in your local area
Read more: How to Find Your Passion
2. Decide how much time you can commit
Before you start volunteering your time, you should know how much time you can commit to your chosen organisation. The time you have will depend on your existing work, study and leisure commitments and your future plans. Remember that time for relaxation is also important, so make sure you allow for this when estimating your available time. Travel time to and from your volunteering position will also impact your estimated time.
Some groups accept volunteers for indefinite duties. Other organisations engage volunteers for minimum time periods. Minimum six- and 12-month volunteering periods are common, as organisations want to know the time they spend training you is worthwhile. Some other organisations with annual events need volunteers for just one day each year.
Be realistic about how much time you can commit and for how long. Once you are confident about your availability, you can start approaching organisations.
3. Approach organisations directly
If you want to volunteer for a particular organisation, you could approach it directly for unpaid work. Many charities and community groups publish volunteering procedures on their website. If the process isn't listed, check the contact section for a phone number. Call the organisation and ask them who to speak to regarding volunteer opportunities.
4. Search for volunteer roles online
An online search can alert you to current volunteer roles you weren't aware of. Job websites such as Indeed list volunteer opportunities as well as paid roles. These sites let you filter search results by their location, company and date posted.
5. Undergo necessary checks
Just like paid roles, you must pass some background checks for some volunteer roles. Criminal history checks and working with children checks are common for many volunteer opportunities. These checks show you are trustworthy and of moral character. Once the organisation has the results of your checks, they will decide whether you can start your volunteer duties.
How to promote your volunteer experience
Volunteer experience shows you are passionate enough about your community and interests to work without financial incentives. Employers often prefer hiring and promoting volunteers because they are usually motivated, enthusiastic and reliable. Mentioning your volunteer experience when you're applying for jobs can also help explain any gaps in your career history or between study and paid work. You can promote your volunteer experience during your career by:
- Noting your volunteer experience on your website and social media profiles. Many employers review their candidates' online presence when making hiring decisions. Mentioning your volunteer work and including photos from volunteering can create a positive impression.
- Mentioning your volunteer experience in your cover letter. If your volunteer work directly relates to a job you're applying for, you might mention it on your cover letter. Explain how your volunteer work prepared you for the vacant position. For example, your volunteer work may have made you more passionate about the field or helped you develop job-specific skills.
- Adding your volunteer experience to your CV. You may include details of your volunteer work in your work history section or a separate volunteering section. List volunteer experience like any other work experience, with your title, organisation, date range and a list of duties. You should also list any notable achievements or contributions. Make clear the role was unpaid if including your volunteer experience in your work history.
- Explaining volunteer work during job interviews. Open-ended job interview questions give you the opportunity to describe your volunteer experience in more detail. You can use anecdotes from your volunteer work to answer any relevant questions about your work history. You might also mention your volunteer experience if the interviewer asks you about your interests, hobbies or core values. Talking about what your volunteer experience means to you personally helps interviewers get to know you better.
- Mentioning current volunteering commitments when negotiating for a promotion or raise. Your employer may not realise you volunteer in your spare time. Helping them understand your volunteer work and the extra skills it gives you may help you advance in your career.