Why Volunteering Right Now Could Be a Smart Thing to Do

By Ellevest Team

One of the lessons we learned from the pandemic is that helping each other matters. Organizations and communities you care about will always need the help — many non-profits rely on people raising their hand to help out. Volunteering some of your extra time, if you have it, can help both your community and your career, whether you’re looking for a job or just looking to grow.

It’s a networking opportunity

Volunteering can diversify your network. A wide network, where you’re connected across different groups, is one key to networking success. If you’re only connected to one group, you’re always getting the same opportunities, perspectives, and advice. Volunteering often brings people from widely different backgrounds together — like maybe your future boss, or a friend of a friend, or someone you can help out and pay it forward.

If you’re looking for work, find ways to tell that to the people you volunteer with. (This is good advice everywhere, actually. Don’t ever assume that someone can’t help you. You never know where your next opportunity is going to come from.) Tell your story when you introduce yourself to your teammates, and mention your search when you’re talking about the skills and experience you have.

What does networking while volunteering look like right now? In essence, it’s the same as ever: Build relationships, look for ways you can provide value to others, and tell your own story. That can be as simple as having a conversation (while distancing) with teammates if you’re working in person. Maybe it’s suggesting a virtual happy hour to celebrate a job well done, or offering to stay in touch after a project’s been completed.

If you’re volunteering remotely, your service may be more individualized. If that’s the case, you could talk to the group organizer to suggest a virtual volunteer meetup to share ideas, techniques, and challenges. Or you could ask if they’d be interested in starting a job loss support group. If that feels like a stretch, remember this: There’s been a staggering change to the economy. Job loss is of utmost priority to millions. There’s zero stigma to it, and it’s not your path to walk alone. Offering to pool resources is a generous offer to a generous group of like-minded people.

It can be good for your resume

Your volunteer work can help you expand or clarify your professional identity. That’s important as you’re thinking deeply about the kinds of work you’ve done so far, and what you might want to do next. One of the best ways to volunteer is to audit your strengths and then search for where they’re needed — you’ll be giving what is easy to give, and the community will receive your talent. Even just doing this audit can help you understand your strengths in a new way, and doing the work itself can help you uncover the ones you want to highlight as you move forward.

For example, say you’re working with a group of people on a food bank delivery project, and you realize that you’re the person who’s finding ways for everyone to efficiently collaborate — maybe you want to highlight how you excel in a team environment. Or say you’ve donated some time helping people navigate new Small Business Administration loan options, and the experience helped you understand that you enjoy environments where your adaptability and problem-solving keep you challenged.

You can also develop new strengths through volunteering, assuming there’s an opportunity to do that as you help those in need. Maybe you’re donating time scheduling and hosting calls with older people who are alone — setting up those calls is project management, and having them with different people helps develop your interpersonal communication skills. Or maybe you decided to set up a mutual aid group within your community. That’s a big task, requiring multilevel leadership and organization. And whatever you’re doing, just taking initiative during this crisis is a leadership quality in itself. (Good work, by the way. Congratulations.)

All of the things I’ve highlighted are “transferable skills,” which can be used in lots of different jobs. Finding ways to highlight them can be particularly important if you’re thinking about reframing your career as you job-search.

It can be great for your job interview

Successful interviews often revolve around how well you can tell stories that showcase your relevant skills, your perspective, and your working style so your interviewer can see how you’ll be a fit for the job. You can draw from your time volunteering to do all of those things and to show your interviewer that you’re a caring human.

Here’s an example: a coworker of mine who volunteered to donate plasma. You’d think there’s no “skill set” there, right? But actually, it involved her looking for what was most needed in the community (showing her ability to prioritize), realizing she was a match and that she had to do it (showing leadership and initiative), figuring out how to get across town to the donation center safely and quickly with the subway closed (problem-solving), and making a plan to donate regularly (follow-through and reliability).

Talking about your volunteering time could also give you a way to pivot tough questions where skill set may not be a match — for example, if your previous experience didn’t include project management experience, but your volunteer time actually did. If you’re doing this, be specific about what you’ve learned from the experience that makes you a fit for the role.

Your conversations around this topic can also give you a sense of the company culture. An interview is about you discovering if this place is a good fit for you, too. If you care deeply about giving back and the people you talk to don’t, that could be a red flag.

It’s got some other benefits, too

There’s been a ton of research around the effects of community service on volunteers, and most of it suggests that community service has benefits that could help your career. Specifically, it can motivate you to achieve personally, and it’s associated with greater self-esteem.

And to zoom out from career effects to life effects: Volunteering might help you get through a time of crisis less stressfully. It’s also linked to better overall financial health, and physical health, too. And if there’s one thing we’ve learned from this crisis, it’s that our health, our resilience, our ability to weather bad times is something to prioritize. If you can do that, boost your career, and serve the community … that’s a win-win-win.


© 2020 Ellevest, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The information provided does not take into account the specific objectives, financial situation or particular needs of any specific person.

Information was obtained from third-party sources, which we believe to be reliable but not guaranteed for accuracy or completeness.

Don’t miss an update

What you need to know about managing your financial health during the coronavirus pandemic. Plus fact-based opinions and women supporting women. Delivered 3x a week.

Ellevest Team

The Ellevest team is working to help women reach their financial and professional goals.