Whether you are an undergraduate or graduate student (international students should note that since there are no work authorizations necessary, you can start volunteering as soon as your freshman year), I suggest that you start volunteering as soon as possible — but volunteer strategically.
If dogs are your passion, and you are pursuing a marketing career, don’t volunteer to clean cages at the local pet shelter, volunteer to help with their promotional or event planning activities. If you are an accountant or accounting student, volunteer to help them with their books or tax preparation. If you are in sales, volunteer to help with fundraising…..You get the idea! Check out websites such as www.volunteermatch.com to find assignments that match your interests, career goals, and time availability.
There are several great reasons to volunteer strategically while looking for a job or internship:
- It gives you the chance to gain experience, sharpen your existing skills, and learn new skills that will make you a stronger candidate.
- Community service work looks impressive on your resume, particularly if it demonstrates important strengths such as collaboration, leadership, or program management.
- Volunteering provides a great opportunity to network with people who might recommend or hire you for a job or internship. In the non-profit sector, you not only have the chance to mix with volunteers, but you may have the opportunity to network with staff, the Board of Directors, and corporate donors. You may also have the opportunity to meet important contacts at non-profit social events (you can offer to work as a volunteer at these events even if you have never volunteered at the organization in the past).
- Volunteering helps build confidence and a sense of community that contributes towards maintaining a positive mind-set during a sometimes frustrating job search.
- If your goal is to pursue a non-profit job, it will give you the credentials and understanding of the non-profit culture required to be considered for employment.
If you are an international student, volunteering also provides one of the easiest and fastest ways to understand the U.S. work culture, and gain experience working in that culture. It can also help you improve your English language skills.