Developing Skills Through Volunteering

Can volunteering lead to paid employment?
Volunteering can really help you get a job - but not always as quickly as you’d like. To get the most out of volunteering it helps to have realistic expectations.
If you take on a volunteer role, and are committed, you will get huge benefits. For example you can:

Keep your skills fresh
Get new skills and experience
Transform your cv - see Louise Martin's story (and her CV before & after her volunteering)
Increase your confidence levels
Get references
The experiences you gain through volunteering will really help when you come to complete job applications and do interviews. But of course you will still have to apply and compete for any job. You may or may not get the first job you apply for, but you will be on the road to getting paid work.

To get the most out of your volunteering, it helps to think beforehand about what you would like to gain, such as particular skills or experience.

And, volunteering should be something you actively want to do. To put it another way, you shouldn’t be volunteered – but you might want to volunteer! You can download the leaflet (PDF)


Can I get a qualification through volunteering?

It’s becoming more common for organisations to offer volunteers qualifications such as an NVQ, but it is still unusual.   This does not mean you will not learn a lot and gain valuable experience and skills, which you can include on your CV.  Volunteering can also provide you with a reference if you are applying for jobs.  If you do need a formal qualification, ask at interview, or contact Volunteer Centre Sheffield, as we may know if local organisations are offering qualifications.

Improve your Employability
Stand out from the crowd in your search for employment
Research a new career
Volunteering can give your confidence a huge boost, can help you learn new skills, gain experience, build up your CV, make connections, improve core skills such as team work and communication, show initiative, demonstrate commitment, and give you valuable character references.

Some types of opportunities are easier if you want to give a short-term, more intensive commitment – for example charity shop/retail, conservation/gardening, marketing/PR/media, research/policy work, and of course events.

Other types tend to require longer term commitments (often 6 or more months) but don’t need as much time per week (sometimes just 2 hours) – e.g. befriending/mentoring, advocacy/human rights, counselling, advice/information, committee work.  Many of these will offer preparation training and sometimes its accredited.

Soft skills are increasingly important in the workplace, especially for those starting out in their careers.

A recent survey of UK employers found soft skills are prized more than technical knowledge in graduates. But if you have just left school, college or university, you may feel that your soft skills are not as developed as you may like.

As Soft skills tend to develop with experience, a great way to start developing these skills is to do some volunteering. The kind of skills that are classed as ‘soft’ include the following:

Communication skills
Good time management
The ability to be a good leader
Problem-solving skills
Being able to work well under pressure
Having the ability to make decisions 
Being a good team player
Be a volunteer
Many people think volunteering is only for retired people who have time on their hands. But as well as being a great way to give something back to the community, volunteering can be a helpful way of boosting your employability.

For instance, doing voluntary work during your free time or gap year can show potential employers that not only are you motivated but you also have initiative.

Most volunteering opportunities involve working with other people, which allows you to build on your team working abilities. And whatever you do, it’s inevitable that you’ll be faced with problems, obstacles and challenges at some stage – all of which allow you to develop your practical skills as well as your problem-solving and creative thinking skills.

If you volunteer with an organisation that places you in direct contact with members of the public, the experience will give you plenty of opportunities to fine tune your communication skills. You’ll meet lots of new people, and your co-volunteers may well come from different walks of life, which can be invaluable for boosting your interpersonal skills.

But that’s not all. Working with a diverse mix of people is a chance for you to become more flexible and adaptable, as well as helping you to improve your ability to work towards common goals. And there’s every chance that someone you meet while volunteering may become a valuable business contact later on.

Test the market
In certain circumstances, getting work experience through volunteering could give you the opportunity to test out different types of employers before you start applying for full-time jobs. This may be ideal if you’re not sure about the type of company you want to work for.

Finally, it goes without saying that doing voluntary work can help you to feel more valued by those you work with, as well as the individuals or organisations that benefit by what you do. It may also help you to prove to yourself that you can have an impact. These things can do wonders for your confidence and self-esteem, both of which may significantly improve your chances of getting the job you want (and are arguably even more important than having the perfect qualifications).

Volunteer work can broaden and deepen your experience and provide skill development in a way that is often not possible or available to you elsewhere. We hear all the time about the challenges faced by those actively job hunting, particularly recent graduates: “I don’t have direct experience in the type of work I’m looking for, and many employers don’t train anymore”, or “I don’t have any connections in the industry I’m trying to break into and there is so much competition!”

Here is a summary of some of the ways that volunteering can help you build skills and gain experience.

Meet new people. Volunteering puts you amongst all kinds of people. You don’t just get a new perspective on the rich diversity of our communities, but you learn to get comfortable talking to people you’ve just met, as well as how to start and sustain conversations. You’ll also have a chance to observe how others navigate in the nonprofit work environment and learn other social skills, all while building self confidence.

Develop professional relationships. Volunteering helps you develop new networks, through which you will hear about job openings, training opportunities, and networking events. Through these networks, you will also build an awareness of the trends, issues, people & resources in your community and the causes you’re interested in, while at the same time allowing you to elevate your visibility amongst experienced, influential community leaders. You may have a well-developed skill set that you now want to apply to a cause you’re passionate about – new networks can help connect you to the right people at the right organization.

Hone and sharpen skills. You may have just graduated, or perhaps your job doesn’t allow you to use all your skills and experience, or to advance further. Volunteering can help you retain and sharpen existing skills like planning and budgeting for example, with the bonus of concurrently developing soft skills such as team building, goal setting, problem solving and adaptability. A volunteer position may afford you the opportunity to learn how to be a leader and achieve a higher level of responsibility when none exists where you work.

Develop new skills. Volunteering is a great way to learn new skills and try new things in a relatively risk-free environment. You could try out working with animals in a volunteer position, for example, before committing to the cost of a multi-year university veterinary program. This is a valuable way to either reinforce your level of interest or possibly even discover that it’s not the career for you. You can also explore entirely new fields – possibly discovering skills & interests you were previously unaware of.

Boost your performance. The act of volunteering and engaging with your community stimulates the circulation of oxytocin, one of the “feel-good” neurochemicals like dopamine and serotonin. Apart from the “feel-goods”, oxytocin limits the release of the stress hormone cortisol. Your increased sense of well being and reduction of stress will help you learn better, improve your focus, and release your creativity.

Build your resume. All experience is valuable, and head hunters have long encouraged clients to include volunteer work on their resumes. Typical interview questions that ask for concrete examples of “thinking outside the box” or “working with teams to overcome challenges” can be answered by referring to your volunteer experience. The fact that you care about your community, are willing to learn new things, have the initiative to gain the experience you need, and possess the time management necessary to fit volunteer work into your schedule are all attractive attributes to a prospective employer.

In summary, volunteering is a great way to make the connections you need and gain the experience necessary to pursue the career you’ve always wanted


Links to relevant stuff 

Kyle at the Lighhouse Centre between 10am and 3 pm on:

  • Monday 12 November

  • Monday 04 March

  • Monday 27 May

  • Monday 09 September

Gairloch at the Lighhouse Centre between 10am and 3 pm on:

  • Monday 12 November

  • Monday 04 March

  • Monday 27 May

  • Monday 09 September

Skye & Lochalsh Council for Voluntary Organisations 

A Charity Registered in Scotland SC0177372 and Company Limited by Guarantee SC013885

Tigh Lisigarry, Bridge Road, Portree, Isle of Skye. IV51 9ER

T:01478 612921

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