How to up-skill through volunteering.
There are often times the job you were trained for is not the job you end up in. That being said, now more than ever people can train for new jobs, or new positions, from the comfort of their home. However, a crucial step for making your skills employable is to practice them.
This is where volunteering can help you!
If you would like to brush up your skills or develop new ones, volunteering is an excellent idea. You can try your hand in a new organisational role or a whole new field without the commitment and responsibility that a paid position would usually entail. You can test a field and a market you are not familiar with, and understand how to best navigate it.
As a volunteer, you can take more risks than as an employee and can try out a new career with little commitment, or at least no long term one. If while volunteering you realise that the career is not what you thought, you can refocus your job search without actually leaving a job. Similarly, if you like the task itself but don’t feel like a good fit for the specific work environment, you can easily test the market exploring other employers without much fuss.
If, on the other hand, it looks like a good fit, then you will have something more to show and talk about when applying for a job in the field, as well as some ad-hoc skills you learned on the job!
Soft and hard skills
Organisational psychology and human resources distinguish between soft and hard skills.
- Soft skills are competencies you can work on and develop regardless of the specific job position and environment, and mostly refer to relational skills (e.g. are you capable of interacting with your colleagues and customers appropriately?) but also to organisational and time management skills.
If you volunteer in a canteen, for example, you will be dealing with various kinds of people, and by volunteering in a school, a kindergarten, or a summer camp, you will interact with children of different ages in various situations, and will have the opportunity to reflect on whether that education career you have always wanted to pursue could be a good fit for you.
Other skills you can develop and strengthen as a volunteer can be, for example, multitasking, problem-solving, decision making, flexibility, time management, and coordination. All these skills would prove essential and immediately useful in any job position and field!
- Hard skills are teachable and measurable abilities: are you familiar with MS Office? Can you code? Do you speak different languages? Volunteering is a brilliant way to train these more technical skills. Nowadays so many so-called “intellectual” jobs (e.g. consultancy, customer service, marketing, communication…) rely heavily on an ever-changing set of softwares and platforms.
Volunteering in one such field can help you in two different ways; you will gain first-hand insight on the skills that the job requires. For example, which specific teleconferencing platform? What data analysis software? And secondly, you will be able to train those same skills on the job (minus the pay, and the responsibilities it entails).
More often than not, the job market focuses a lot on transferable skills: capacities and expertise you can transfer from one work environment, or job, to another. Once again, volunteering allows you to train and develop transferable skills that will help you be more competitive in the job market. You could have a “hands-on”, on the job training instead of theoretical, maybe outdated, knowledge.
Volunteering can benefit both broad, overarching skills like computer literacy, use of writing, editing, and e-mailing software, as well as more job-specific ones like, for example, ad-hoc design platforms, programming languages, or data analysis softwares.
If you volunteer in a small to medium organization, it is likely you will be covering various roles, going above and beyond your formal job description; in terms of soft skills, this can be framed as multitasking, liaising, cooperation skills that represent a valuable addition to any CV or cover letter.
On a more abstract level, volunteering in a role that suits you and satisfies you contributes to your self-esteem, feeling of accomplishment, and sense of purpose, which in turn makes you a stronger candidate in any job interview you might be called for! Additionally, reflecting on such experiences shows that you are capable of introspection.
You can learn by doing, but sometimes you can learn by watching too. As a volunteer, you can assist/support a job position you might want to land, to understand the specific tasks and hierarchical relations it entails. It could help you tailor your future CVs, cover letters, and applications to maximize your chances.
You can also learn by teaching or training! Training someone in a more junior position, or in a different organizational area, requires management and supervisory skills, very good communication and listening skills and capacity of self-reflection and introspection, among others.
In the current situation, you can even volunteer online; thanks to the existing technology, it is possible to collaborate with groups and associations all over the world. With such a broad potential audience, you can get in touch with someone working at your dream job even if this is at the other side of the world, and can create an incredibly vast network of acquaintances and collaborations.
Not only can networking help in your future job searches, but it represents an acquired skill in itself.
Especially when it comes to coding, programming, or developing, it is very easy to take up a task and collaborate even remotely. At the same time, such skills are more and more coveted in the current job market, regardless of the specific field.
After all this talking about soft and hard and transferable skills, we left the most obvious, and maybe immediate, advantage of volunteering until the end.
By showing a volunteering experience, you are implicitly (or maybe explicitly, in an interview setting) telling your potential employer that you are motivated to help others, to making good use of your time, to learning new skills, to testing yourself, and to giving back to the community. Volunteering experience is a positive and valuable experience in itself, but it’s up to you to exploit its full professional potential.