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Home  > Article

Help Someone Else, Help Yourself

By Laura Sweeney

Find out how you can use volunteerism as a career-planning tool.

Volunteering allows someone to rise to the level of their competence, not their credentials.
If you're like most of your peers, you have been buzzing along your career path, relatively content with what you have been doing - up until recently. Now, it seems, you're beginning to question your job choice, wondering whether you might be interested in a different field altogether.

The question is: do you quit your job, and leap into a whole new industry based on an inkling that you might like it? And if you decide to take the plunge, will someone hire you without relevant experience? Should you invest in a graduate degree to make yourself more marketable? But you don't even know if you'll like the industry!

It's true, there's a lot at stake. The situation definitely calls for careful thinking and, ideally, the opportunity to test the waters before you make a big move. That's just what we recommend you do - and you can do it as a volunteer.

On the street or online
Volunteering has become more than a means of contributing to the community. Many young people are using it as a career-planning tool. It is a means of glimpsing inside a job, learning new skills, gaining relevant experience, making contacts, and maybe earning recommendations and references.

There are traditional volunteer opportunities at organizations like the Red Cross or United Way (and smaller, local organizations, as well) for administrative and management volunteers - including fund raisers, public relations and human resources workers, recruiters, and managers for any number of projects, such as disaster relief. Volunteer experiences like these provide a chance to gain skills and learn the details of a job you think you might be interested in.

The Internet makes possible remote, or virtual, volunteering as well, which opens many more doors. For example, someone interested in graphic design can "try it out" by designing a brochure for a non-profit group that's located in another city. Likewise, someone considering a career in accounting could help a non-profit or other agency with bookkeeping, or a would-be software developer can volunteer online to help a school with new computer programs.

Get credentials, without credentials
Susan Ellis of Energize Inc., a consulting, training, and publishing company that specializes in volunteerism, suggests volunteering at an organization in which you will be free to explore, ask questions, make mistakes, and take risks. She says that volunteer work can beef up anyone's resume. And most importantly, volunteering allows you to "rise to the level of your competencies, not your credentials."

And don't forget to check with your school's career center for additional guidance. 

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