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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

Volunteer Your Way to the Top: The Power of Pro Bono

Since your childhood years, you’ve known the importance of volunteering: you’ll help others, you can give back to your community, you’ll make a positive contribution to the world.

All of these reasons are absolutely true, but let me add one more to the list: you can help your career—in a big way. Whether you’re searching for work, looking to take on new responsibilities at your current job, or trying to expand your network, volunteering can be an important (and fun!) way to reach your goals. Here’s how lending a hand to others can be helpful for you, too:

Learn About Yourself

I began volunteering at a young age and found that being surrounded by and working with a wide range of professionals helped me gain a sense of what I wanted for my future. Working in a variety of different settings can help expose you to new options and prepare you for those all-so-important career decisions you make in college or when you decide to change careers.

Gain Skills and Confidence

Want to learn how to develop a marketing plan, or get hands-on experience with graphic design? If you’re looking to grow in your current position or change careers, volunteering can provide an opportunity to learn new professional skills in a safe setting (that’s grateful for even non-expert help!). You can ask questions, test your knowledge, and expand your skill set—all while avoiding the critical eye of your boss.

Boost Your Resume

Getting a job right now is difficult for anyone—but particularly for recent grads with no real-world work experience or those who’ve been out of a job for a while. Volunteering is one way to fill that gap on your resume, boosting your chances of getting an interview (and eventually the job). Working with leaders of volunteer organizations can also help you score good references and letters of recommendation—other valuable tools in your job search.


I moved to a new city out of college and knew no one, so I immediately began volunteering. I met great people that way—I’ve now known some of them for almost three years, and they’ve become one of my best support systems. When I lost my job, they were the ones who recommended me to several open opportunities.

Sure, you’re giving to an organization by volunteering, but you never know when you might need it to give a little back. If you’ve built a positive relationship with the people you volunteer with, they won’t hesitate to help.

Stay Active

At some point, you may face a time when you’re not working—you’ve been laid off, quit a job, or moved to a new city, for example. Whatever the reason, when you have some free time, keeping active helps prevent you from getting bored or going stir-crazy. Plus, volunteering can fill the I’m-not-working void and give you an answer to the sometimes awkward question, “So, what do you do?”

Ready to get started? Contact community organizations, centers and institutes at a local university, or national nonprofits that you’re passionate about to see how you can get involved. Or, to search for specific opportunities in your area, browse volunteer-matching websites like Volunteer Match or All for Good.

Go forth, my friends, and volunteer!  It definitely helps society, but don’t forget that it helps you and your career, too.

Photo courtesy of Agecom Bahia.