The most important benefit of volunteering is that it can help you explore your interests and various career paths. Here’s how to use it effectively.
Choosing a career is one of the biggest decisions you will ever have to make. It requires careful thought and planning that can take days, weeks or even months since this is a decision that could set the tone of your life for the next forty years or so. Making this decision takes time because it forces you to look into the future and try to imagine yourself in a position where you will be able to be happy and contribute meaningfully.
You are usually required to do it when you are a 17-year-old secondary school student, whether you are ready or not. Your teachers and parents think that: ‘you should choose a career right now’ like you are supposed to know exactly what you want to do at such a young age.
Now some students can do that quite easily. For example, many people who want to become lawyers have already decided that is what they are going to do. They also prepare for it quite early on in the process e.g. getting their A levels and other qualifications ready. But, most students don’t have a clear idea of what career they should choose and they spend a lot of time in jobs that pay well, but they don’t really enjoy.
The result is changing jobs or even careers quite often. But that’s why I believe volunteering is probably the best way to explore your career interests and find your true passion.
What is Volunteering?
According to NCVO – the National Council of Voluntary Organisations, volunteering is ‘any activity that involves spending time, unpaid, doing something that aims to benefit the environment or someone (individuals or groups), other than, or in addition to, close relatives’. The NCVO definition of volunteering emphasises that volunteering is a choice freely made by each individual.
What’s good about volunteering is that anyone above the age of 16 (for UK standards) can volunteer no matter their education level or experience, although this often depends on the requirements of each position. Quite often what makes you eligible to become a volunteer is having the willingness to help out and a keen interest to expand your knowledge in a specific field.
In the voluntary sector there is something for everyone, whether you decide to help a local or international organisation. In the UK, volunteers don’t get a contract of employment although it’s always good to have a written volunteering agreement.
Volunteering can help you find yourself. Just like Mahatma Gandhi said, ‘the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others’. What Gandhi meant it is that volunteering can be beneficial to the person who is providing help as well as to the person who receives it. It can help you find out what it is that you like or don’t like, identify your wants and needs. It can also help you find out more about yourself regarding how you are most likely to react to unfamiliar situations and what kind of work environment you are most suited to.
Volunteer Emily Rendell-Watson provides some good evidence, saying that volunteering can open your eyes to new career paths. Her experience while volunteering in Kenya inspired her to pursue a career in journalism. Her fellow volunteer Jenny Dadswell who was with her on the trip said: “We think we know ourselves, but you don’t truly know yourself until you go on a trip like [that]. Everything is stripped. You are raw. You learn who you are and what you like.’
Volunteering experiences give you a sense of purpose because you are trying to find the best way to help people and make a community or the world a better place. The feeling of excitement and fulfilment you get from helping others can reduce stress and improve your overall health and happiness.
A special health report published by the Harvard Medical School, says that the more people volunteered the happier they were. The odds of being ‘very happy’ increased by 7 per cent among those who volunteer monthly and 12 per cent for those who volunteered every two to four weeks.
But that is not only thing volunteering can do for you:
- It helps you learn or develop a new skill.
- It makes you part of a group or community.
- It increases your motivation and sense of achievement.
- It helps you develop new interests and hobbies.
- It allows you to have new and exciting experiences.
- It helps you develop a strong work ethic, dependability and adaptability.
In terms of personal development, volunteering helps you boost your self-esteem and confidence and develop skills such as communication, teamwork and leadership. I could go on and on about it, but you get the point.
The benefits are countless, and can vary depending on the type of work you are responsible for as well as your geographical location. So, if you were to volunteer abroad, let’s say China, India or Africa, this could also help you increase your cultural awareness, improve your language skills and make you more of a well-rounded person.
But how becoming a volunteer can help you discover your passion? Amongst others here’s what volunteering can help you choose a career:
- It helps you identify and support a cause you feel strongly about.
It might be easier to decide on a career if you are a person with lots of hobbies and interests simply because you know there are many activities that you enjoy and can turn into a career. If you are talented in more than an area or field, you need to think about an activity that you wouldn’t mind doing all day long and then give your full attention to. This kind of thinking can help you find out what you care about the most and then choose to volunteer for a cause that relates to it or a specific industry.
- It provides easy access to an industry that interests you.
Becoming a volunteer often doesn’t require an academic degree, although it can be helpful. In case you have no clue what your career will be, volunteering can help you get into most industries and explore your interests without having to spend time and money on a degree for a career that is not right for you. Your dream job may not fall into any traditional or popular industries e.g. accounting, finance, law, business etc. It might have something to do with charity and fundraising, social care, coaching, tutoring or the environment.
- It helps you gain valuable work experience in the field.
Work experience through volunteering can offer you so much more than paid employment because it is more flexible and you have the ability to try new things while you are there. A paid employee probably wouldn’t be able to enjoy that kind of freedom.
- It helps you meet people who are passionate about what they do and can share their advice.
Volunteering allows you to get advice and guidance from people who have ‘been there and done that’ and can inform you about of what’s going on in the industry. It is a good way to get an insight into the profession – and if you decide that this is what you want to do, find out what opportunities are available in the sector.
So, where to start?
There are many volunteering opportunities out there, and it’s easy to reach out to organisations that offer this kind of activities. What’s rather difficult will be finding the one that is best for you. As step one, it might be a good idea to start doing your research with DO-it Trust to search for volunteering activities, because that’s where all opportunities around the UK are being submitted.
Other useful sites for UK opportunities include:
If you are unsure about what you want to volunteer for, these sites can give you some very good ideas, so this could ideally be your starting point. Once you find out what you want to do e.g. teaching, research, social care, administrative work etc., follow these steps:
Step 1: Determine how much time you can commit to this and find out what other volunteers are doing to balance other activities.
Step 2: Think about where do you want to volunteer e.g. in the UK or abroad?
Step 3: If travelling abroad find ways to fund your volunteer activities.
Step 4: Reach out to the organisation you are interested in.
Becoming a volunteer and starting your passion project can be as simple as that!
Volunteering is a valuable career planning tool even though most people see it like that. Not only can it give you access to some of the most amazing experiences you can get but it can also help you explore your career interests one by one. Even though this is essentially unpaid work, volunteering can be extremely beneficial for individuals who aren’t 100 per cent sure about what they want to do in their careers and need to discover their purpose in life!
Have you ever used volunteering as your career searching tool? If yes let me know how it turned out for you by sharing some of your experiences in the comments section below…