Advance Your Career with Skills-Based Volunteering
Skills-based volunteer opportunities give you a chance to keep current, gain new skills, and expand your network at any stage in your career. Whether you’re a new or seasoned professional, in the workplace full time or taking time out to care for your family, you can reap great rewards by dedicating a little bit of your time and expertise to a volunteer commitment.
Canadian women put more time into volunteer work than men (Source: Statistics Canada).
This year, make your volunteer commitments count, not just for your community but also for your career, with skills-based volunteering.
How can volunteering help your career this year?
For the Employed Mom:
If you want to advance in your workplace this year, volunteer work can give you a chance to demonstrate your potential for greater responsibility and your capacity to perform successfully in a leadership role. Be strategic about finding a volunteer opportunity that demonstrates the skills you need to advance in your workplace, such as a volunteer opportunity that involves leading a team if you want to move into a management role.
Research shows that those who volunteer early in their careers tend to do better in terms of advancing their career development and maximizing their earnings potential over time (Source: Volunteer Canada).
For the Mom in Transition:
Volunteer experiences can be very valuable if you’re facing uncertain times in your career this year. For instance, you can explore a field you’re considering moving into by volunteering in the area. You’ll gain greater focus and be able to discover if it’s the right direction for you.
If you’re making a career change or trying to pivot in a new direction, volunteer experiences give you a chance to demonstrate your potential in a new field to prospective employers and will help you grow your network. Growing your network means you’re better positioned to tap into the 80% of ‘hidden’ job opportunities that are never publically advertised. You'll also gain informal mentorship from the colleagues you meet while volunteering, which will help you launch the next chapter in your career.
For the Stay at Home Mom:
Unfortunately, it is much easier to find work in the Canadian labour market if you’re already actively participating in it. For those entering the labour market without current ties to it, there’s a lot of work you need to do to get into a job that fits your qualifications. This is true for a lot of different types of people, such as recent graduates, newcomers, and stay at home moms. Despite the barriers, many stay at home moms plan on returning to employment in the future.
What can you do to be proactive about the barriers you’ll encounter when you’re ready to re-enter employment?
If you’re planning on job searching in the near future, a current volunteer opportunity in your field of interest will freshen up your experience and resume, provide networking opportunities that may result in job leads, and build your confidence for starting a new position. Some organizations may even allow you to apply for internal job openings while you’re a volunteer.
But you don’t have to wait until your job search to start volunteering. There are a lot of skills-based volunteer assignments that can be done from home and on your schedule well before you’re ready to go back to employment.
This year, prioritize volunteer work for a few hours a month and you’ll see benefits such as keeping your skills and confidence sharp, growing your network, and learning about new career directions that could be meaningful to you in the future. Then when you’re ready to make the transition from stay at home mom to career mom you’ll be well positioned to reach your goals.
What kind of skills-based volunteer opportunities are out there?
From pro-bono consulting to event planning to project management, there are a lot of ways you can do skills-based volunteering.
Here’s a list of examples from a recent webinar, How Skills Based Volunteering Can Advance Your Career, provided by Volunteer Canada.
How do you find the right skills-based volunteer opportunity for you?
First, you need a plan. It’s important to reflect on what you want to achieve through volunteering this year. What is your career vision and how will volunteering help you reach your goals?
Come up with a list of criteria to help you search for an opportunity. Consider the field of work, skills you can contribute, new skills you want to learn, your availability, whether you’re looking for a short or long term opportunity, and what you hope to receive from the organization such as training opportunities, job leads, references, or mentorship. Keep in mind that volunteer matches are more successful when the organization and volunteer have a shared commitment to the organization’s mission and values. Include some organizational values that you know are a good fit for you. Divide your list into “must-have” and “nice-to-have” criteria. Now you’re ready to begin your search.
Use the Following Websites to Search for Opportunities:
Volunteer Canada Find your local Volunteer Canada centre to search for volunteer opportunity listings.
British Columbia and Alberta: Go Volunteer
Manitoba: Spark Winnipeg
Ontario: Spark Ontario
You can also consider organizations that have an established reputation for volunteerism, such as the United Way.
For most volunteer opportunities, you'll need to apply just as you would with a job. Have your resume and cover letter ready to go and be prepared to have an interview with the organization to make sure the opportunity is a good fit.
Once you're volunteering, how do you communicate your experience in a way that employers will value?
Many employers value volunteer experience when looking at job candidates. Don’t dwell on the fact that the experience is unpaid. Instead, highlight the competencies you gained through the experience. The language of competencies is what prospective employers will understand and value.
For instance, let’s say there’s a mom working part time in retail. She’s ready to take on greater responsibility and has her eye on moving into management on a full time basis. She recently volunteered to organize a clothing drive for a local non-profit, which involved supervising a team of volunteers, creating and maintaining an inventory record of donation items, and promoting the clothing drive on social media and through local news outlets. What competencies has she demonstrated? Supervision, team building, inventory and logistics management, computer skills, and public relations, just to name a few. By communicating these competencies she can discuss her volunteer experience in a way her workplace will value and position herself for a management career track.
Use the Skills Plus Tool
You can use Volunteer Canada's Skills Plus Tool to see other examples of volunteer positions and their competencies. When you look through these examples, think about how you can communicate the value of your volunteer experiences in terms of the competencies you've gained. The tool features a number of volunteer positions along with the workplace competencies someone would gain doing the volunteer work. It also gives a list of occupations related to the volunteer work.
Here are a few examples from the Skills Plus tool:
A Minor Sports Convener who organizes a season of children’s sporting events would develop competencies in planning and coordinating, motivating others, team building, managing groups, problem solving, supervision, event management, conflict resolution, sensitivity, and adaptability. These competencies suit related occupations such as supervisors, administrative officers, executive assistants, coaches, and program leaders, supervisors or instructors in recreation, sports, and fitness.
A Funding Proposal Researcher/Writer who helps organizations raise funds by writing grant proposals would develop competencies in fund development, project management, time management, decision making, prioritizing, adaptability, creative thinking, strategic thinking, public and media relations, analysis, and financial planning. These competencies suit related occupations such as business development officers, fundraisers, market researchers, health policy researchers, journalists, and writers.
A Social Media Consultant who helps an organization spread its message would develop competencies in needs assessment, analysis, collaboration, written communication, interpersonal communication, change management, developing others, thought leadership, creative thinking, self-motivation, and computer skills. These competencies suit related occupations such as advertising and marketing occupations, public relations specialists, and web designers and developers.
Check out more examples with the Skills Plus Tool and imagine the competencies you can add to your resume and talk about in job interviews with skills-based volunteering. If you need a hand figuring out how to tell your story in a way employers will value, contact me, I’m here to support you.
How do you plan on making your volunteer commitments count this year? Spend some time exploring the resources in this guide to get started advancing your career with volunteering. Don’t hesitate to leave a comment or contact me if you’d like some assistance reaching your goals. Enjoy!