Finding Value in Volunteering

University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU) volunteers prepare breakfast

Volunteering experience can play a key role in our personal and professional lives. We’ve each had opportunities that have helped us in various ways in our respective journeys, and volunteering can be a way to continue the cycle of support for others.

James Lynch is a leader in interview skill coaching and the recruitment industry, and Kumari Fernando is the general manager of DOXA’s developmental programs. Recently, I had a chat with both of them in order to unpack the value of the volunteering experience.

It turns out that the time that you invest in others can also be reinvested into yourself, through consolidating your resume and interview responses. I can personally say that I didn’t see my volunteering experience in this light. I’m guilty of just randomly listing my volunteering experience at the end of my resume, with little else but the date, the position and organisation without much thought of how to extend it and use it to my advantage.

“You can leverage whatever volunteering experience you have to be an indicator of your competence as a potential employee.”

When including your volunteering experience in your resume, it should be in an independent section. You can flesh it out by outlining in a few sentences the skills gained and or developed from the experience. Although this mightn’t be direct experience within the industry we want to be in, skills which are relevant to those industries can nevertheless be found through other experiences. You can leverage whatever volunteering experience you have to be an indicator of your competence as a potential employee.

Volunteers visit the elderly and gift them terrariums with the Bedside Buds project

Lynch highlights that it is vital for applicants to demonstrate that they have the practical skills for the positions that they are going for. “Employers are looking for competency when we are hiring somebody. You score points for the volunteering, but you prove that you have skills and qualities that we are naturally looking for.” Double win!

The trend in employment history is that more and more employers consider an applicant’s volunteering history.  According to the Impact Survey of 2016 by Deloitte, a consulting and advisory company, over 80% of employers are more likely to hire an applicant based on their volunteering experience. If you would like to read more about this study, click here.

“These experiences, the people you’ve met through them, and the impact that this has had are all powerful stories you can share…”

Lynch believes that there is a significant reason as to why volunteering experience is highly valued. “It all comes down to the culture in all these companies of community work.”

Through his experience as a recruiter, an applicant’s volunteer experience can really make them stand out. “It proves you are willing to give and consider other people.” These qualities can make the recruiter more confident that the applicant is the best fit for the company’s vision and culture.

Furthermore, your volunteering experience can provide sincerity to your passions. When you care about an issue, you’re more likely to have done something about it over the years. In an interview, the employer may well ask you “what issues are you passionate about and what have you done about them?”

If you care about homelessness, for instance, you may have volunteered at a soup kitchen at some point, or you may have collected clothes to be donated, or helped with Urban Seed’s programs. These experiences, the people you’ve met through them, and the impact that this has had are all powerful stories you can share during an interview. On the other hand, if the only volunteering experience you have is within the months leading up to the interview, it calls into question whether you have volunteered out of sincerity or just to look good in the interview.

Team leaders help out at the colour run with DOXA

Furthermore, volunteering is a proactive way for us to learn about ourselves. It can allow us to consider what is important to us and the direction of our future.  When you are engaged with many different programs and people, it can help shape your vision of where you see yourself in the future, the industries you want to work in and the impact you want to achieve.

Fernando shared that she had volunteered at an organisation, only to later find a full-time job in the very same place. She believes that her volunteering experience helped her navigate the direction she wanted to take her career.

“Volunteering is a real development opportunity,” she said, “it enables us to have a better understanding of what we want out of a career and our studies.”

With increasing competitiveness for internships, graduate positions and jobs, it is more important than ever to distinguish yourself. Many companies receive a staggering amount of applications for only a limited number of positions and roles.

“Volunteering is a proactive way for us to learn about ourselves. It can allow us to consider what is important to us and the direction of our future.”

From working with corporations that sponsor young people in their studies, Fernando has some insights about how corporations are looking for individuals who are flexible and have a diverse skill set. Recruiters are often not just looking at an applicant’s academic history and degree, but rather they are also looking at their development in areas external to their studies. If applicants can show that they have volunteering experience, it indicates that they are more likely to be willing to step outside of their traditional role, thus advantaging them in the recruitment process.

I hope this article provided some insight into the importance and value of volunteering experience. Remember that not every volunteering experience should have a corresponding reward that leads us to a scholarship or job. The simple act of extending a helping hand to others can be uniquely valuable in itself, and just the willingness to be immersed in things that matter is truly priceless.

38911342_1439016499576623_4176721924308598784_nAbout the author:

Liang is currently a first year BA student studying psychology and criminology. She can be often found doing Netflix marathon or spending too much time organising her diary and room in a mask of productivity. Share a bad pun and you have a friend in her!


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