Volunteering can advance your career Unpaid experience adds value to prospective employees

The days of a lifelong career have gone the way of the typewriter and the office ashtray, leaving many with gaps in their employment history.

Then there are parents returning to work after caring for their children, or those who want a career change.

For those newly out of school, options are slim: “Jobs for young people are retail and fast food; it’s not career building,” said Karen Mykietka, facility and program manager at Alberta Avenue Community League.

Though volunteering is often touted as a resume-building activity, can it really pay off?

According to a Deloitte study of over 2,500 hiring managers: yes.

A whopping 82 per cent of respondents said they are more likely to choose a person with volunteer experience.

David Smith, training centre manager for Global Knowledge, an IT training organization, said, “I look at the volunteering that a first-time employee has, definitely. It also depends on the degree, education, and background, but for people who are between jobs I’d recommend to get out there as much as you can, networking.”

Lenn Wheatley, the neighbourhood connector for Alberta Avenue Community League, recently hired 12 students for a summer project. He screened resumes from people studying everything from accounting to pharmacy to sociology.

“Volunteer experience lets the employer see the values and principles that the candidates carry,” he said.

It can provide a safe space to acquire abilities. “You get the opportunity to make mistakes so you can learn from them and bring that learning to the next work experience,” said Wheatley. Though he spoke of tangible benefits like reference letters, “it comes down to offering an experience where [people] can build on their skills.”

The Deloitte study found 92 per cent of hiring managers thought volunteering was “an effective way to gain leadership skills.”

At The Carrot Coffeehouse, Meaghan Underhill is the volunteer coordinator for 70 people a month (and up to 500-600 volunteers for festivals). Volunteers there learn food handling and safety, become prepared to work in the restaurant or hospitality industry, and gain customer service skills.

“One of our baristas for two-and-a-half years was promoted to trainer, then to operations manager during our festivals, which was a paid position,” Underhill said. “Now he works at a local coffee roaster and café serving specialty and artisanal coffees.”

High school students secure paid work, especially at Remedy Cafe. Another barista went on to manage Three Bananas Cafe.

Coming from a non-profit and arts background, Underhill thinks volunteering “shows great initiative and that you’re interested in more than a paycheque. It shows that you’re interested in the community and self-development.”

Underhill volunteers for the Up + Downtown Music Festival doing venue management because “it’s relevant to my career goals, and the skills I use during our own festivals.”

Mason Crawford, a volunteer at The Carrot Coffeehouse, said, “I was able to learn skills here so I can get a part-time shift at a paying job; it’ll help me get my foot in the door. You have to be open-minded, accepting of anyone, and non-judgemental.”

For Alberta Avenue’s Neighbour Connect project, “A lot of people got interviews based on their previous volunteer experience, not work experience,” Mykietka said. “Organizing events, charity work, coaching, that’s what got them the interview.”

Check next month’s Rat Creek Press for part two of this series on how to build a functional resume that pulls together your volunteer experience, job experience, and skills, and bridges the gap between what you’ve done, who you are, and where you want to go.

Featured Image: Mason Crawford and Sam Shapiro gain valuable experience while serving their community at The Carrot Coffeehouse. | Alita Rickards

Alita Rickards

Alita moonlights as a freelance writer focused on interesting people, music, arts, food, culture, sustainable lifestyles, and human rights. These same things attracted her to become a homeowner in vibrant, diverse, walkable Alberta Avenue.

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