How volunteering for charity can actually help your career

22nd April 2019

From coaching the kids’ basketball team to helping out on the Parents and Citizens Association, there’s a good chance you’re already doing some form of volunteering, even if you don’t think of it that way.

In fact, around 30 per cent of Australian adults participate in some form of voluntary work, contributing nearly 800 million hours per year to the community.

But if you’re not one of those people already, or if you need some convincing to take the plunge, here are some occasionally surprising ways that contributing altruistically can actually pay off for you…

You’ll be happier

According to Volunteering Australia 96 per cent of volunteers say that volunteering their time makes them happier. And while you may be thinking, “Well, yes, they would say that,” it’s an opinion that’s backed up by actual science.

Dr Tim Sharp, founder of The Happiness Institute and also known by the moniker “Dr Happy”, says altruism is “the classic example of how by helping others we can help ourselves”.

“Helping others is a form of connecting, and because we’re social animals connection is very important,” Sharp says. “It makes us feel like we belong, like we’re part of the ‘tribe’.”

“Seeing others do well also generates positive emotions so we feel good when we do good. Physiologically, it’s also been shown that when we give through activities like volunteering we enjoy a rush of ‘feel good’ hormones which is sometimes referred to as the ‘helpers’ high’.”

But does being happier mean you’ll do a better job at work? According to Dr Sharp: absolutely.

“Happy employees are more engaged, so they exert more discretionary effort, and so they’re more productive and tend to collaborate better with others,” Dr Sharp explains.

“They’re also less likely to get sick and more likely to be resilient.”

You’ll learn new skills and open doors

Carolyn Alchin, vice-president of the Career Development Association of Australia and founder of consultancy Career Motivate, says volunteering can help you develop all kinds of transferable skills including communication, teamwork, leadership, planning, organisation and innovation.

And according to SEEK, 85 per cent of employers say volunteering is as credible as paid work. That means those new skills you learn while volunteering will be viewed just as favourably as ones you learn at your day job.

In particular volunteering can help you improve your “soft” skills or “emotional intelligence”. For example, Volunteering Australia says that 60 per cent of volunteers learn to become more patient through their volunteering experience.

Volunteering Australia CEO Adrienne Picone says people looking to get a foothold in a new career ought to consider volunteering.

“It is a credible way of getting real-work experience, especially for first-time job seekers,” Picone says. “Volunteering develops self-esteem, confidence, and feelings of self-worth by allowing people to fulfil a meaningful and positive role in which they can develop new skills and gain a sense of achievement.”

Carolyn Alchin says volunteering is also a great way to discover new career opportunities through extending your professional and social networks.

Organisations heavily favour volunteer experience

According to a 2016 Deloitte study in the US, “hiring influencers” – that is, people directly responsible for hiring decisions or indirectly influencing hiring – were overwhelmingly in favour of candidates with volunteering experience.

Four out of five respondents said they were more likely to choose a candidate with volunteering experience, while 85 per cent said they were even willing to overlook “résumé flaws” for candidates who’d volunteered.

Carolyn Alchin says she “firmly believes” that volunteering experience is increasingly become expected by some organisations.

“In the constantly changing world of work individuals increasingly need to demonstrate volunteering in order to access work opportunities,” she says.

“Many employers value staff with diverse experiences particularly if those staff can articulate the skills they developed through volunteering and the impact they had. It’s becoming more and more valuable.”

Interested in volunteering?

A good starting point is GoVolunteer, where you can search for opportunities throughout Australia. Alternatively, if you have the means to take a year or so off work, why not consider signing on to DFAT’s Australian Volunteers Program and work on your skills in far-flung locales.

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