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Advice / Career Paths / Exploring Careers

A Great Way to Figure Out Your Dream Job (Without Quitting Your Current One)

Are you looking for career enlightenment? Confused as to how to find it when you have a full-time job? Believe it or not, volunteering is one way to discover your dream job, while still working regular hours.

Volunteering can provide clarity about the things you love (or don’t) in your career. Moreover, it can help you discover new opportunities and stand out to potential employers when you do start looking for a job.

Rather than settling for a job that you think will keep you engaged, discover what makes you happiest. Here are three ways you can use volunteering to learn about a specific sector, discover your work style, and develop the skills that will help you on your path to your dream job.

1. Find (Organizations That Align With) Your Purpose

Through volunteering, you’ll learn more about the nonprofit, advocacy, governmental, and corporate partners that contribute toward the causes that you are most passionate about.

For example, someone who’s passionate about cancer might volunteer at a research center like Fred Hutchinson or a nonprofit like the American Cancer Society. But that’s not all. By volunteering in this sector, you’d learn that there are other high-impact organizations that are actually for-profit, like this list of companies creating amazing, life-saving solutions for those with cancer.

And don’t count out startups! Volunteering with a for-profit company might seem counterintuitive at first, but here are “four world-changing reasons why you should.” Smaller organizations give you the most exposure to more aspects of core operations, are more likely to have a skills-based project, and have a real need for your abilities—meaning your work stands to make significant impact.

In other words, volunteering doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to work at a nonprofit for the rest of your life. In fact, it might help you discover a company with a mission you believe in that you wouldn’t have found otherwise.

2. Discover How You Work Best

There are some things you can only learn with experience, such as whether you prefer to work independently or as part of a team (or some combination of the two). Even if you’re light on formal work experience, volunteering can provide you with the opportunity to explore how you work best with others.

For example, volunteering on a board or advisory team will give you exposure to working with other leaders. The time-sensitivity involved in volunteering to plan an event will test your collaborative skills. And volunteering on a project that requires you to use your skills and experience solo, either in your free time on a weekly basis or on a “purposeful vacation,” will force you to deliver results on your own.

Discovering how you work best will serve you well in your volunteer position—and in future roles to come.

3. Share Your Skills

Don’t just volunteer to build skills you want to gain. Volunteering your already-honed expertise can make a huge difference for the organizations you care about. “Skills gap” is one of the biggest challenges for social impact organizations, and as such, you may find yourself taking on bigger and more prestigious projects than you might in your day job (hello, resume!).

Depending on your availability, these are the most common types of skills-related arrangements:

  • Training: Good for those with less availability, training allows you to transfer your skills to an organization’s staff. An example of this type of volunteering would be leading a workshop on Excel skills or data analysis.
  • Consulting: Good for those with limited availability, but who can stay engaged over a longer period of time. It often means big-picture thinking. You might develop a plan to help an organization overcome a challenge or realize a new opportunity, such as assisting a nonprofit with identifying short and long-term ways to lower operational costs.
  • Project-based: Good for those who can dedicate a specific amount of time. Volunteering on a project means you’ll help an organization meet a clear outcome. Examples might include building a new website, creating a video, or planning an event.
  • Team member: Good for those looking for long-term engagement. Volunteering doesn’t have to just exist on evenings and weekends. You could take a volunteer position responsible for donor engagement or a key business area, like marketing, measurement, IT, grant writing, or communications for a one-year term. Just remember that—even though you’re not being paid—you’ll be expected to conduct yourself as any other team member would.

Naturally, contributing your skills will keep them fresh, and it is actually proven to further develop them. Moreover, contributing to an organization you care about it (in addition to your high-stress job) can help you identify whether it is your work or work environment that isn’t inspiring you.

Long story short, the more experiences you give yourself, the better chance you have of learning about the type of work you love doing and the types of environments you excel in. And even if you don’t find all the answers? By volunteering, you’ll help make the world a better place in the process.

Photo of man raising hand courtesy of Shutterstock.