There are many different ways to volunteer. But what they all have in common is that they involve working for free.

While this may strike some as a waste of time or earning potential, volunteering brings with it unique benefits that paid work simply can’t offer.

Ultimately, volunteering will help you land a paid job in the long term.

Think of it as an investment (not unlike the one you made by becoming a student, but considerably shorter).

Investing time working without pay can bring a wide range of benefits that will not only help you find work in your chosen field, but will equip you with the personal qualities, skills, and experience to help you thrive in the future.

Here are 5 ways becoming a volunteer can help your career.

1) Improve your CV

Recruiters love to see volunteering positions listed on your CV.

It is far more impressive to have spent your time volunteering than simply job hunting after you graduate, or when you have been between jobs. Though that is easier said than done.

Volunteering looks good on your CV precisely because it requires dedication. If you are willing to spend your time working without pay, then you can probably be relied on to apply yourself impressively when working for wages.

Becoming a volunteer alongside paid work is also a very good sign in a job applicant (especially during full-time work). Going to the trouble to volunteer in order to improve your chances of landing your dream job, or just to develop your skills, demonstrates how motivated you are.

Even volunteering positions that don’t obviously correlate with your career plans provide an example of diligence and enthusiasm that recruiters will appreciate.

Remember to include in your CV:

  • Workinghours. Volunteering for a few hours on weekends is quite different to working a full day during the week, or on the same day as paid work you are doing alongside.
  • Duration. Let recruiters know how long you volunteered for, giving an indication of the work schedule during that time.
  • Tasks. Volunteering positions can vary hugely, and a recruiter may not be familiar with the sector or field in which you worked. Be clear about what your responsibilities were, and what you spent your time doing.
  • Organization. State clearly what the organization does, and provide a link to their website.

2) Expand your network

Volunteering puts you in contact with new people, so it’s a great opportunity to grow your professional network.

Most obviously, by volunteering for a company that you would hope to be hired by, you have the perfect platform to build relationships and show your worth.

Even if you are volunteering in a different part of the business, you can simply let your colleagues know what your career plans are and leave it at that until a chance comes around.

But, more than this, as we never know where our next big opportunity will come from, contacts made as a volunteer can offer valuable insights and opportunities for your career in the future.

By making a good impression as a volunteer, future job positions that fit with your profile may be sent your way. The advice that these contacts can give, especially as a new graduate, will prove extremely beneficial for navigating the job market in future.

You will also need referees when applying for work. (It’s best if they are not all from your time at university.)

After a period of volunteering, it is a very good idea to keep in touch your contacts and ask them if they have heard of any relevant openings.

Ideally, ask your manager or a senior member of staff who has worked with you to provide a reference for you to keep on file.

3) Develop new skills

While your studies will most likely equip you with the core skills you’ll need to find work in your chosen field, volunteering can help you develop other skills that are no less important.

Work is quite different to study, and may prove something of a shock to new graduates. Becoming a volunteer can make this transition easier.

Here are some skills you may pick up as a volunteer that you won’t get from university:

  • Communication. Learning how to write effective emails and have efficient meetings (and knowing when to hold your tongue) will serve you well in the workplace.
  • Time management. Managing your workload according to work hours is very different to the schedule you will have grown used to as a student.
  • Organization. As a volunteer you can get very useful exposure to how projects and day-to-day tasks are structured and executed.
  • Reporting. Communicating with your superiors about how your work is going, and what you have achieved, is an important skill worth developing.

But there is more to your work life than ‘hard’ skills such as these, and those you acquire during your studies.

‘Soft’ skills, such as interpersonal skills and personal qualities of your own, are also vital for finding success in the workplace. Volunteering gives you a chance to develop these, and be exposed to the challenges they can be used to overcome.

Here are few of the ‘soft’ skills you can hope to develop as a volunteer:

  • Collaboration with colleagues, within your own team and across different departments.
  • Listening to others and taking care to consider how your work affects others.
  • Relationship-building to enhance your ability to work with others and grow your network.
  • Assimilating and adapting to the culture of the workplace and the company.

4) Gain valuable experience

Recruiters much prefer to hire candidates they can trust to hit the ground running.

Even a short time volunteering in a position comparable to the one you have applied for can spell the difference between success and failure when applying for jobs.

Volunteering gives you a rare chance to experience a workplace and life at a particular company without the commitment to stay there for the long term.

As a volunteer in your chosen field, consider what area appeals to you most as you may be able to specialize when you enter proper employment. Lessons learned as a volunteer can be applied as soon as you start paid work.

Volunteering for an organization you have no plans to work for in the future, or in a field much different to the one you’d like a career in, can also provide valuable experience.

Challenging yourself in a new field (and perhaps a new country) is often a unique way to expand your horizons, gaining a deeper understanding of yourself and the wider world.

5) Grow as a person

Volunteering gives you a new perspective on life and work.

Whether or not you’re volunteering in your chosen field, working for free helps you see the bigger picture.

Volunteering somewhere just to make a positive contribution to society tells you a lot about who you are, and will give you a unique sense of self worth.

Becoming a volunteer will teach you a number of extremely worthwhile lessons. Here are just a few:

  • Appreciation for diversity. Everyone is different, and volunteering can help us to see how these differences make us stronger and help us achieve more.
  • Patience. Working with others involves patience, and as a volunteer you will quickly learn the value of patience when working with, and for, others.
  • Respect for colleagues at all levels. As a volunteer you will appreciate respect shown to you by paid staff and more senior colleagues. This is an experience you can take with you as your career progresses.
  • The value of your own work. You’re worth more than just a salary. As a volunteer, this is obvious – you don’t get one. Volunteering teaches you about how we value the contributions of others.

Tips for find volunteering opportunities