5 Ways that Volunteering or Interning Can Boost Your Career

LinkedIn 1 in 5 hiring managers have hired due to volunteer experience

When you hear the words ‘volunteering’ or ‘internship’, do you equate them with “working for free”? You may not get paid when you volunteer or intern (although some internships are paid and/or provide college credit), but even without financial reward, the experience that you receive can be invaluable.

We want to open your eyes to 5 ways that volunteering or interning can make a difference in your career.

5 Reasons that Volunteering/Interning Can Make Your Career

1. Volunteering/Interning Demonstrates Your Interest and Devotion—When employers hire, they want to make sure that you really want the job and are likely to stick around. The fact that you would work to gain experience in lieu of financial compensation in your chosen field definitely indicates that you are interested and devoted. Even if you do not have any professional paid experience, employers are more likely to consider someone who has volunteered or interned in a similar capacity. It also indicates that you are knowledgeable about what the job entails and are still interested.

2. Volunteering/Interning Proves You can Do the Job—When hiring managers interview job candidates, they must make a determination as to whether the job seeker can actually meet the requirements of the position. You can take the guesswork out of their decision by showing that you already have the requirements. When you volunteer or intern, you obtain work experience to prove that you are capable of doing the job. A LinkedIn survey revealed that 1 in 5 hiring managers have hired a candidate because of their volunteer experience, so it can make a difference.

3. Volunteering/Interning Provides On-the-Job Training and Experience—Training is time-consuming and expensive—that is why hiring managers would prefer to hire someone who already knows how to do the job. The learning curve is greatly minimized when they hire someone who has already done the job. Often as a volunteer or intern, you have this training and experience under your belt, which can serve as a serious advantage when you go to apply for jobs, especially for recent graduates or those switching careers. Likewise, you may qualify for higher pay than a job candidate who requires training from scratch.

4. Volunteering/Interning Proves You Would be a Good Employee— Some employers prefer to try out workers through temp agencies prior to hiring them. Some employers like to hire from within when they have a new opening. Some employers prefer to hire volunteers or interns when they need to fill a paid position. Do you know why? All of these situations allow employers to try or test out a potential employee before officially hiring them. If you volunteer or intern at an agency, you will have a better chance of hearing about potential opportunities before they are posted and may have an advantage over an outsider. A 2011 National Association of Colleges and Employers survey revealed that 86% of surveyed employers utilize internships as a tool to recruit college students for potential employment.

5. Volunteering/Internship Allows for Numerous Networking Possibilities—When you volunteer or intern, you meet new people in the field of your choice. This is an invaluable opportunity to learn from these individuals. It is also an opportunity to prove yourself to them. If they are in the position to hire in the future, they may consider you. If you need a professional reference, they may be willing to vouch for you. References that work in the field of your choice raise your credibility.

You also have an opportunity to get to know external organizations and contacts that your agency works with, allowing you to expand your network. With today’s digital age, this can be an easy way to build up your LinkedIn connections. If they are so inclined, they may choose to endorse some of your skills and/or write you a recommendation that can be viewed by potential employers.

Another benefit of volunteering or interning is the chance to sharpen your communication and social skills by interacting with others in a professional employment situation.

Tips to Maximize Your Volunteering or Interning Experience

• Remember that your work, paid or unpaid, will make a lasting impression—make sure it’s a positive one.
• Demonstrate a strong work ethic.
• Always be willing to learn. Create learning opportunities by asking questions.
• Be open to potential mentorship opportunities if they present themselves.
• Don’t feel the need to act like you know more than you do. Allow yourself to be teachable. "Admitting that we don't know something gives others permission to teach us. It gives us an opportunity to learn." --Deep Nishar
• If you feel comfortable, ask permission to use some of the people that you interact with as professional references. If they oblige, record their information for future reference.
• After your volunteer arrangement or internship is over, stay in touch with the people that you met, even if it is through social media or an annual holiday card.
• Ask for feedback on your volunteering or internship performance and then act on it to improve your future performance.
• Be sure to list your volunteer or intern experience on your resume/CV and LinkedIn profile.
• When you apply for jobs, make sure to share information on your cover letter and during the interview about what you learned during your volunteer or intern experience and how it can relate to the position that you are applying for. Don’t leave it up to the hiring manager to connect the dots—make it easy for them to hire you by connecting the dots for them.

Volunteering/Interning Makes You a Valuable Job Candidate

As the job market continues to be competitive, it is necessary to formulate strategies to increase your desirability to potential employers. By gaining experience through a volunteer or internship arrangement, you can boost your chances of getting the job that you desire. Despite the fact that you may not be paid for volunteering or interning, it can add significant value to you as a job candidate and to your overall career.

How has being a volunteer or intern helped your career? Has a job candidate’s volunteer or internship experience made the difference when you hired for a position? Please comment and share your thoughts about the value of volunteering and internships.

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