Finding and earning your dream job is no easy journey, but it turns out that doing good for the world might be your golden ticket.
Over the past few years, we’ve spoken with hundreds of volunteers, hiring managers, recruiters, and career coaches to explore the theory that volunteering can help people get their dream job in any sector: public, private, or non-profit. We’ve complimented our qualitative stories with quantitative research to show that volunteering helps you at all the main steps of your career path:
- Identifying your passions and career calling
- Building critical skills and making your resume stand out
- Helping you ace the interview and hiring process
Our team is incredibly eager to show this research as it represents a true win-win: Some of the biggest challenges facing this earth are skills-related challenges, meanwhile people benefit by contributing their skills to global issues.
“No matter the position I’m interviewing for, I look specifically for volunteer experience – it proves that the person has passion, thinks beyond him/herself, and has the ability to take initiative. In short, it shows me the person will be a better team member.” – Mary M, Leadership Development Professional at Fortune 50 Company
Here is a recording of our Google Hangout Presentation on this topic
In summary, our research shows that people should be pickier about the way they engage in volunteering by making sure their time and talents are actually needed – not just their physical presence. In fact, we found that volunteers are more engaged, deliver more value to organizations, and stay longer if they donate their real talents as opposed to their muscles. In doing so, they also tend to experience “career enlightenment”.
However, there appears to be a right and wrong way to both volunteer AND communicate your experience on your resume, LinkedIn profile, and cover letter. The following infographic shows you why and how volunteering your skills, especially on a dedicated project like an international volunteering trip, can help you find and get your dream job. It is also full of useful tips about how to choose a project and how to talk about your volunteer experience during the interview process for public, private, or governmental jobs.
Volunteering Can Help You Identify Your Dream Job
Beyond helping you understand your strengths, being purposeful about your volunteer work can also help you learn more about specific industries, gain experience working on different types of teams, and gain exposure to what it’s like to work inside different sizes of organizations. The combination of these can help you refine what and where your dream job is. In fact, 95% of career advisers agreed that volunteering “brings clarity to the job search”, and 76% strongly agreed that it made you “more likely to get your dream job”.
“If you’re thinking of making a career change years down the road, consider volunteering now to lay a foundation for the future. It helps you identify your real strengths, build a bigger network, and explore what truly motivates you. You’ll look back and be glad you had the foresight to plan early.” – Brad Waters, Founder of Brad Waters Coaching and Consulting
There is a great article in the Harvard Business Review that hits to the theory as to why this is true: How to Find Meaning in Your Career.
Volunteering Can Improve Your Resume and Help You Stand Out
This was one of the most interesting areas in our research… We found that most recruiters spend less than 60 seconds looking at a resume, and experienced recruiters spend even less – one recruiter shared that she spends less than 30 seconds per resume. Only 30.4% felt that candidates with international skills-based volunteering experience stand out.
So what do they look for? They focus their few seconds of attention on REAL work experience that tells a “cohesive story” about why you are applying for a job and deserve to get it. While recruiters tend to agree that volunteering makes you a more interesting candidate (54%), the slight majority DO NOT look specifically for it.
In other words, while recruiters don’t look for volunteer experience, our research hints that if it is communicated the right way, it makes your resume “stand out”. However, one anonymous recruiter told us that “a resume with too much volunteer experience is a negative thing if the person is applying for a for-profit company, even if that company has a history of good social responsibility”.
Recruiters did agree that there is a “best” way to position your volunteer experience, and it’s probably not what you expect.
“If you have completed meaningful projects, include it as real work experience, not in a ‘volunteer or interest’ section. Call it ‘Pro Bono consulting’ and articulate the situation, task, action, and result – just as you would a normal job.” – Katie Kross, author of Profession and Purpose
Your skills-based volunteer experience should help you round out your resume and tell a recruiter that you have the skills and experience needed for it, as well as a passion for the industry. As an example, if you are a finance professional looking to get into the tech industry, like Google, volunteering finance skills at a tech nonprofit or a tech startup can help show your passion for tech. Or, perhaps you’re a program manager at a tech company and want to get into global development at the Gates Foundation. In this second case, having volunteered overseas for an extended length of time with a similar type of beneficiary organization will prove that you have the skills and field experience to earn a position.
Volunteering Can Help You While You Interview
We were pleasantly surprised by the number of managers that get excited when candidates have real volunteer experience – 66% specifically look for it and strongly value it. Similar to career advisers and recruiters, they agreed that “day of labor” style volunteering didn’t add much value. Instead they emphasized that people who engaged in skills-based projects for a specific cause “stood out as more interesting candidates because they are likely to be better team members”.
“International experience (of any kind, personal or professional) leads to a greater life experience, which then leads to a greater awareness of needs. In my experience, candidates who have these things then have a greater ability to innovate.” – Harry Weiner, Co-founder and Partner at On-Ramps
Similar to on your resume, volunteer work is only interesting it if demonstrates that you took initiative and delivered meaningful results. Anecdotally, we also feel that managers value volunteering for another reason – many felt that it involved “transferring skills to others”, and this resonated as being very valuable as it showed you had prior experience with coaching and developing others.
Why is Volunteering Experience Valued so Highly?
Along the entire candidate screening and hiring journey, volunteering your skills simply shows that you take initiative, are more selfless, and truly value your professional skills. Managers equate this to mean that you are more likely to be a better team member and deliver results.
“In every situation – from financial to creative positions – I look at a candidate’s volunteer history. It’s a good indication of their passion, leadership and problem solving abilities.” – Julian Lorentz
Indeed, we saw that managers agreed or strongly agreed that skills-based volunteering, especially in international environments, was a great way to develop skills needed to succeed:
- Collaboration: 93.8%
- Communication: 97%
- Emotional Intelligence (EQ): 89.3%
- Grit: 80%
- Innovation: 70%
- Leadership: 90.3%
- Problem Solving: 90.3%
However, managers were quick to note that “not all volunteer experiences are created equal”. First and foremost, managers are most interested “in finding quality people with demonstrated skills… volunteering doesn’t automatically mean you are either of these. It has to be the right type of volunteering project”.
An Important Caveat
As an organization with a mission of accelerating the impact of changemakers around the world, we would like to add the caveat that volunteering should be approached as selflessly as possible. Our research should not be used to motivate people to volunteer just for the sake of professional gain… In fact, our research shows that people should start their volunteering endeavor by auditing their skills, formalizing their goals, and then searching for an organization that specifically needs their skills. Groups like MovingWorlds, Catchafire, and LinkedIn For Good can all help you find the perfect placement. Done improperly, volunteering your skills might make your resume look better, but it can harm the organization you are trying to support.
In fact, a notable number of respondents felt that volunteering did NOT even belong on your resume at all and were quick to add comments that if they felt volunteer experiences were engaged only for professional gain, it would negatively impact the candidate.
Our research shows that volunteering can indeed help you in all steps of your career journey, from identifying your passion to standing out in the hiring process regardless of your career ambitions. However, volunteer experience doesn’t automatically launch you past other candidates, and in fact, it can even detract from your resume. One of the senior level managers we spoke with best summarized this point when he shared that
“When I’m looking for someone to join my team, the recipe is actually pretty simple… I want the person to have the required skills, I want to know the person has passion for our company and industry, and I want proof that the person will be an effective team member and the potential to be a long-term contributor, and hopefully, a leader… the right type of volunteer experience can help with all of those, especially the latter, but it’s not a replacement for job experience… it’s more of an icing on the cake situation. But when you’re looking for the best cake, icing is pretty @%&$ important!”
It is our contention that in this globally-connected and competitive job market, the more connections you’ve made, skills you’ve practiced, and experiences you have, the more you stand out. And, considering some of the world’s biggest challenges are propagated by a lack of access to skills, we also live in a time when doing good for the world can help you get ahead, and is good for your health, too!
This research surveyed 108 practicing professionals who are actively involved in career coaching, recruiting, and/or hiring — from entry level to executive positions in the public, private, and governmental sectors. It complimented over 225 qualitative discussions with similar professionals. Respondents were from more than 11 major industries, and represented companies ranging in size from Startups to Fortune 10 companies. This project was led by Cami Hagen, Social Impact Fellow at MovingWorlds.org. This research just dips into the role of volunteering in helping people identify and earn their dream job, and MovingWorlds is keen to keep exploring this topic with any parties interested.