People gardeningNational Volunteer Month shines light on the importance of volunteering and the important contributions that volunteers make when they lend their time and talent to causes dear to them. Have you considered volunteering to gain valuable work experience? Learn how volunteering can help you advance in your career.

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Find Your Career Path Through Volunteer Work

Apr 23, 2020

People gardeningNational Volunteer Month shines light on the importance of volunteering and the important contributions that volunteers make when they lend their time and talent to causes dear to them. While volunteering is a great way to invest in your community, it's also a great way to invest in your career. As a volunteer, you can gain valuable workplace experience and skills and expand your network, all of which can boost your employment prospects.

Finding and applying for a volunteer position is a lot like finding and applying for a job. Plan and think about the kind of workplace experience you'd like to gain from volunteering. For example, is your goal to improve your people skills, also known as soft skills? Do you want to explore what it would be like to work in a particular field, or to promote causes that you're passionate about?

Then, put your search and networking skills to use to find a volunteer position that will meet your career goals using online sources such as:

You can find also Federal government-sponsored volunteer programs at the Corporation for National and Community Service, Ready (which focuses on disaster relief) and Volunteer.gov (a free, fast, and efficient way to connect volunteers with natural and cultural resources agencies). Some of the sites we've listed have volunteer opportunities that can be done virtually from your home.

After you've visited various websites, begin to narrow your choices by attending information sessions about the organizations that interest you, talking to the volunteer coordinator and to people who volunteer or work for the organization. Learn about the organization's culture, especially as it applies to employees and other volunteers with disabilities.

You will probably have to complete an application, take part in an interview, and you may be asked to go through a security screening process, including a driving history (if applicable) and criminal record check. Treat the interview as though you're applying for a paid position. And, to be successful, practice the attitudes and skills that will increase your value for a future employer. That means:

  • Know what your supervisor or the volunteer coordinator expects of you and your role in the organization.
  • Be dependable and show up on time for every shift. Let your supervisor know if you can't make a shift, stay on task, and complete assigned work.
  • Maintain a positive attitude.
  • Work as part of a team.

Take advantage of opportunities to participate in training activities that can build your skills and knowledge and add them to your resume (view our previous Work Incentive Seminar Event (WISE) webinar on building a resume and landing an interview).

You may also be able to find a mentor, who may be an experienced staff person, board member or another volunteer who can help you succeed - both as a volunteer and in your career. Here's a great resource to find help you find a mentor.

You can also use volunteering to expand your network of contacts, who may include staff, board members, clients, other volunteers and suppliers, etc. They may be willing to provide a favorable reference for you when you apply for a paid job. Here are some tips on networking.

If your volunteer experience is relevant, make sure to mention it on your resume or job application and at a future job interview. Be sure to have the correct contact information for your supervisor and references, the title of your volunteer position, examples of your volunteer activities, the skills you acquired and your accomplishments.

To Sum It All Up

Here's how volunteering can help you to reach your career goals:

  • Volunteering gives you experience. Volunteer experience shows employers that you can manage your time and complete assigned tasks. It also shows that you can get along with others and make a commitment. Your volunteer record can show an employer that you have the attitudes and skills they are looking for in a potential employee.
  • Volunteering helps you develop skills. Volunteering gives you a chance to build on skills you already have and learn new ones.
  • Volunteering gives you the opportunity to meet new people and expand your network.
  • Volunteering lets you check out an occupation or industry. Whether you are considering a new job or changing careers, volunteering lets you learn about the types of people and jobs that are out there, the challenges you may face and how best to prepare to make that change.
  • Volunteering builds your confidence and can help you feel more active, needed, and productive. Remaining confident is especially important if you've not worked for a while or if you are becoming discouraged in your search for a new job or new career.
  • Volunteering helps you better know yourself, your skills, accomplishments, interests and values, which are the foundation of career success. Volunteer experience can be a good way to understand your potential to grow and develop and to find out how other people view you and your strengths.

Volunteering can help you build a solid foundation for the next phase of your career. The skills you use, the tasks you complete and the outcomes you achieve through volunteering will bring you closer to your career goals. And you'll have the opportunity to make a positive difference in the lives of others. It's a win-win situation!

Success through volunteering and Ticket to Work

Social Security's Ticket to Work (Ticket) program supports career development for people ages 18 through 64 who receive Social Security disability benefits (SSI or SSDI) and want to work.
The Ticket program is free and voluntary. It helps people with disabilities move toward financial independence and connects them with the services and support they need to succeed in the workforce.

On his road to full time employment, Jesus volunteered with Telecare. Telecare works to improve the lives of people with serious mental illness. As a volunteer, Jesus learned the important work the organization does in his community and found a career path he was passionate about. His role grew, and later that year, he accepted a paid position as a part-time case manager. Read more about Jesus to find out how volunteering and the Ticket program helped him find his way to a full-time career.

Learn more

To learn more about the Ticket program, call the Ticket to Work Help Line at 1-866-968-7842 or 1-866-833-2967 (TTY) Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET. Ask a representative to send you a list of service providers or find providers on your own with the Ticket program Find Help tool.

Learn more

To learn more about the Ticket program, call the Ticket to Work Help Line at 1-866-968-7842 or 1-866-833-2967 (TTY) Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET. Ask a representative to send you a list of service providers or find providers on your own with the Ticket program Find Help tool.

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