Last week was National Volunteer Week, an annual event that, since its inception in 1974, has raised awareness about the growing role volunteerism plays in strengthening communities. But did you know that volunteering could also help you land that dream job?
Many are getting savvy to that burgeoning opportunity. Case in point: LinkedIn recently shared that 1 million members have added charitable causes to their profiles, and that Millennials account for over 60 percent of those who are highlighting their volunteer efforts on the site as a part of their overall professional identity.
So, while some may still say that they can’t afford to work for free, I’d argue that there are quite a few ways in which that investment of time and effort will pay off in the long run:
Helping out helps you stand out: Companies today are looking for well-rounded candidates and actively seeking those kind of “do-gooders” — ones who will ultimately represent them well in the world. In fact (also according to LinkedIn LNKD -0.44%), one in every five hiring managers in the U.S. say they have selected a candidate because of his or her volunteer experience. Why? That kind of work feeds the soul while showcasing your interests — and it’s a perfect way to illustrate who you are and what you care about to potential employers.
Getting your foot in the door: When I was just starting out, I was looking for a position doing music or arts publicity. Without the right connections (and before the assistance of social media and sites like LinkedIn), I struggled. That was, until I began volunteering for a fantastic non-profit called LIFEBEAT, the music industry’s AIDS organization. At the time, they were raising money through a series of after-parties for bands/musicians from Aimee Mann to Busta Rhymes, Sonic Youth to Tony Bennett. Volunteering at one of those events, I was introduced to someone in the process of launching his own music PR firm. Out of that fortuitous meeting came a job offer, which ultimately set my PR career in motion.
Honing your skill set: Volunteering provides the perfect opportunity to build or sharpen your skill set and stay connected to the industry in which you’re interested. This is true for soon-to-graduate folks who haven’t been able to score “real world” experience in their field; it’s also a great opportunity for parents who’ve taken time off to care for their families. It allows you to pursue your passions and get experience that makes you more marketable. For example: Say you don’t have social media skills. You might try finding a small non-profit that needs help in that department. Getting hands-on experience–like growing followers to a Facebook FB -0.67% page or managing the group’s Twitter account–will then give you concrete examples to share on your LinkedIn profile or during in-person interviews.
Figuring out what kind of company you want to keep: Identifying which companies are supporting social efforts will help you focus your job search–particularly if you’re someone who values volunteering. Often those organizations with strong corporate social responsibility (CSR ) approaches also offer a more gratifying workplace. The thought: When employees and management feel they are working for a company that has a true conscience, they will likely be more enthusiastic and engaged in their jobs.
Yes, volunteering is about giving back to the community, but in today’s competitive job market, it has also become a vital point of differentiation for both job seekers and employers. By embracing volunteer work, smart candidates–and companies–are doing good while standing out in a good way.
Have you added your volunteer experience to your LinkedIn profile? What else have you done to polish your online profile? Share it here, on Facebook and on Twitter.
Meryl Weinsaft Cooper is a co-author of Be Your Own Best Publicist: How to Use PR Techniques to Get Noticed, Hired and Rewarded at Work (along with fellow Forbes blogger Jessica Kleiman) and co-founder/principal of Allen/Cooper Enterprises, a communications and exhibitions management company specializing in arts and lifestyle clients. You can follow her at beyourownbestpublicist.com, on Facebook or Twitter (@bestpublicist).