Volunteering: Opportunities for Building a Career Portfolio

Service initiatives are a smart investment of time that can yield big rewards.

Highly regarded by employers and graduate schools, service (or volunteerism) provides opportunities for skill development, leadership, networking and community engagement.

They can add to the well-roundedness of a resume by showcasing an individual's talents and skills as well as personal convictions and interests. In addition, service demonstrates a person's charitable interest in helping the community.

How Does Volunteerism Build Career Skills?

Like any real-world experience, volunteer positions include challenges and successes. These encounters help a student gain confidence in his or her abilities to be creative, to problem solve and to exercise leadership. They also build proficiencies in project planning and execution, fund raising and budgeting, and team collaboration. Other benefits include:

  • Meeting potential employers. Just as internships can lead to job offers, so can volunteer positions. Getting to know the day-to-day workings of an organization, building relationships and demonstrating competencies can lead to potential employment.
  • Networking with professionals. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports over 40 percent of all volunteers have a bachelor's degree or higher. These individuals can be excellent resources.
  • Sampling a career field without making a long-term commitment.
  • Turning passion into productivity by channeling personal interests into meaningful volunteer experiences.

Getting Started

Off-campus volunteer opportunities can be humanitarian, political, civic, environmental or something else. To get started, a person should ask:

  • What are my interests and hobbies?
  • What causes are important to me?
  • How much time can I commit?
  • What goals would I like to accomplish?
  • What talents and skills can I bring to a volunteer position?
  • Do I prefer a visible or behind-the-scene role?

Consider Options

Career Services and the Center for Community Engagement can be wonderful resources for learning about volunteer opportunities. Likewise, faculty advisors and mentors can be helpful. Choose one that best suits you. Thoroughly investigate each organization. Do a web search, talk on the phone and visit. Look for volunteer opportunities that will motivate you, enable you to utilize practical skills, and facilitate mentoring and networking. Also consider the likelihood of personal and professional fulfillment.

Be Proactive

Before making a final decision, contact the volunteer coordinator as well as the person to whom you'd be directly reporting. Gain a thorough understanding of what's expected: time commitment, responsibilities, guidelines for dress and conduct. In addition, ask about training, safety and health-related conditions, as well as opportunities to expand your role with the organization.

Have Fun

Meeting new people, applying skills and contributing to an important cause are a few of the many rewards of volunteerism. It's a powerful way of turning one's beliefs into action and making an impact. Along the way, it facilitates valuable career preparation, networking and potential job opportunities.