Volunteering Will Save Your Career (Or Put You In A New One)

LinkedIn's new "Volunteer Experience and Causes" feature, launching today, 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.

Starting today, LinkedIn will let 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, tells 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+.

[Image: Flickr user Jon Person]

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  • Roberto Voce

    I'm making a comment that will not be popular... Yet, for me, in this economical juncture, it's the hard truth.
    Volunteering is really a great concept, pity is that, in the real world, people need money to survive and let their family eat. It could probably be advisable for a young graduate but, as soon as you grow and get responsibilities, it will be a distant dream.Moreover I'd reform the concept of volunteering from the basis.Just the idea of "work" without the "right wage" is an aberration: an abomination that can only lead to workers exploit. It should be prohibited by law in any form and occasion. IF someone wants to volunteer THAN he will always have the option to forfeit the wage or donate it to any organization he wants.Volunteering should not be "working for free" but "forfeiting the wage".It could seem the same but the concept underlining the two definitions are very different.And, in any case, volunteering is not suitable when you have people that depends on you to survive (parents, unemployed wife/husband, children), that is most of the unemployed at the moment.
    I don't really think that in the real world volunteering could save any career; only a much different socioeconomic policy will.

  • Emily Rotella

    Great article!! I know for myself my volunteer activities on my resume was a big part of my job application when I was switching into the nonprofit sector, and the skills and knowledge I gained from volunteer experience are what make me more successful at my job. I also wrote a blog post about how volunteering is related to Social Impact Assessment: http://bit.ly/qmHiOj

  • Marcia Hake

    As a former manger of volunteer programs in museums I have personally seen job seekers find new positions after volunteering.  Not with the non profit they volunteered with, but rather with corporations/non profits who value the type of contribution the person made.  A look at the donor list of the non profit gives you ideas of what companies support the organization where you are.  Your volunteering appearing on a resume might just be your "in".  As to political volunteering, I would caution people to be careful about that.  A colleague at once worked for a Pro Choice organization and listed it....she was being interviewed and the owner of the company grilled her about that connection.  He was very much Pro Life, she did not get the job.  To find volunteer jobs simply look at any Non profit or NGO in the area where you live.  Ask if they have volunteer programs in place.  If they do, believe me, they will direct you to the proper person!  I know there are volunteer opportunities in India, having attended a few years ago the First Pan Asian Conference on Volunteerism.  There were several presenters discussing their Indian NGO volunteer programs.  Looking to any organization that helps the underserved is a great place to start.  Temples, churches etc, also schools.  And to Bud:  No one is suggesting you volunteer full time, but just being somewhere on a schedule with something meaningful to do lifts your spirits and makes you feel relevant.  You never know who you might meet when you volunteer.  You get out of volunteering what you put into it. 

  • David Kaiser, PhD

    I'm very glad to see this. As mentioned in the article and in the comments, where you spend your free time says a lot about who you are. It's a great way to change careers, since you may not get hired if you don't have experience, but  lot of places will let you volunteer. It's nice to see that social conscience coming through as well. 

    David Kaiser, PhD
    Executive Coach 

    Heroes and Heroines always have a Guide:
    Arthur had Merlin
    Luke had Obi-Wan
    Buffy had Giles
    You have Me

    Time to be Extraordinary!

  • Guest

    Volunteer Experience and Causes -- where is it in the profile?  I don't see it (although I list some of my non profit experience in the jobs section)

  • matthew snyder

    This is incredible and I can't wait for this option to hit LinkedIn. I've spent two of the last three years doing volunteer work overseas while gaining worthwhile leadership, management, and skills experience. But sometimes I think all of that gets overlooked. This makes me hopeful...

  • Emily Rotella

    What an awesome article for an awesome LinkedIn survey. I completely agree that volunteer experience is important hiring, learning, and advancing in the workplace. Great work from LinkedIn to emphasize volunteer experience alongside traditional work experience.

    On something of a tangent: how can we quantifiably measure the social impact of our individual volunteerism? See my attempt at an answer and larger discussion here: http://bit.ly/qmHiOj

  • Ted Savetnick

    Since retiring in 1986, I've almost exclusively worked as a volunteer. It's a great way to occupy your time, maintain your skills, and meet some fine people.

  • Rebecca Plunkett

    I have long included a brief summary of my volunteer work, with the attendant KSA's, on my resume.  In that work, I have gained and used skills and experience that are applicable to a variety of paid jobs.  I also believe in volunteering in order to make a positive impact on the community.  The fact that it is viewed positively by most employers is gravy.  Really good gravy.

    I do have a slight concern that volunteer work or causes that are linked, justifiably or not, with a certain political bent, might sometimes cost an applicant a job.  If an applicant puts down volunteer work at a pro-life clinic, for example, he or she might not be hired by a pro-choice employer; a volunteer with an abortion clinic might not be hired by a conservative employer, for those reasons alone.  That's a private employer's right, but I hope that most would not use such a reason to exclude an otherwise good candidate for a position.

  • krishna mohan

    I am agree with all  and like to same every where in the world ,is this task can we  spread  every where or it is just for particular part. we should have to massage everywhere and collect the people as much as we can and work together. can we ask for join . thanks

  • Isaya Omwango

    Really interested to volunteer within the community of German to gain experience. 

  • Rajeev Velur

    I am interested to volunteer, but can't find these jobs. Where to find these Volunteering jobs in India. Please help !!

  • recep duran

    dear bud smith,
    why should you have been paid?do you pay the air you inhale in?

  • Alice Ren

    "You can try your hand at something in a professional capacity without the pressure of hard dollars", I like this sentence

  • Trevor Hunter

    I think it is good idea to add, it should have to be validated in some way before it is made public in my opinion.  My company is UNIQUE Advertising Solutions and i build website for non profits and charitable orgs for free frequently.  I don't do them all for free but the ones that really hit home I don't charge for, i wonder if that would be considered volunteer work.