Career Development Center

Volunteering Will Save Your Career, Or Lead You to a New One

By Nidhi Subbaraman

LinkedIn's "Volunteer Experience and Causes" feature encourages users to tout their selfless deeds to land better jobs. And a survey of users of the social media service suggests employers prefer do-gooders.

In the fall of 2011, LinkedIn began letting users list their public-spirited deeds and philanthropic efforts alongside job experience under a new section called "Volunteer Experience and Causes." According to a survey by the social network, now more than ever volunteer experience is valuable information that could give job hunters the boost they need to get promoted or hired.

LinkedIn randomly selected and surveyed 1,942 people and found that a vast majority of them--89%--had volunteer experience. But their philanthropy went largely unreported.

Only 45% of the respondents actually reported volunteer experiences on their career profiles. Survey responders said they didn't think such experiences would count for much, and they didn't think managers would be interested. The thought to add that experience to their profile hadn't occurred to some of them.

But when the question was turned around, 41% of the same people polled said they considered volunteer experience as valuable as paid work experience. And 20% of the hiring managers polled in the survey admitted to making hiring decisions based on volunteer work.

Nicole Williams, Connection Director at LinkedIn, told Fast Company that hiring managers are looking at volunteer experience as real work experience, if job candidates are able to talk about their achievements while volunteering in a quantifiable way.

For example, talking about how you grew the Twitter following for an event you managed as an event coordinator would make a strong impression. The goal is to translate the description of your volunteer work into the vocabulary of employment, Williams says.

Managers today are also impressed by someone with a social conscience, Williams adds, but it's also another way they distinguish between people who have the same kind of education and traditional work experience. "Volunteer [experience] is that next level of assessing if that person is someone worth hiring," Williams says. The fact that hiring managers are looking at volunteer experience as adding a little glitter to a resume is a good reason for recent grads to showcase their Teach For America experience on their resumes and job profile, or talk about their time in Mongolia while with the Peace Corps.

But this shift in attitudes toward volunteering could also give mid-career folk who are aching for a change of pace or vying for a raise a shot at a new job or promotion.

Volunteering at an organization in the area in which they'd like to work could put people who are looking for a mid-career switch-up in a plum spot to woo potential employers. It's a good way to build connections at a time when hiring decisions are often made based on who you know, and it can help you stand out in a tough job market.

"Volunteering helps put you in touch with the people in the industry, and it's a great way of getting in front of people who have similar values and are leaders," Williams says. "It puts you in front of people who may be connected with hiring opportunities."

Today, volunteering is as much about adding a layer of legitimate experience, as "about the people you're meeting and being able to build those connections."

You're more likely to perform well and get noticed, too, when you're working for a cause that you're committed to. "You can try your hand at something in a professional capacity without the pressure of hard dollars," Williams says. "There's a passion attached to [your work], there's a chance you'll perform at your optimal level."

And, there's good chance now that a potential employer or future boss will take that experience seriously, on par with a paid "real" job. Neatly packaged, a wholesome volunteer experience could be parlayed into a job opportunity.

Nidhi Subbaraman writes about technology and science. Follow on Twitter, Google+. Source: Fast Company Online

(Pull Quote) Volunteering is a good way to build connections at a time when hiring decisions are often made based on who you know, and it can help you stand out in a tough job market.