Youth and volunteering
Most young people recognize the value of volunteering. It can provide youth with valuable resume experience, practical experience and an opportunity to gain skills and have fun.
The benefits for youth who volunteer are not much different from the benefits for any age group, really, but there are 3 areas that do specifically appeal to youth.
Area #1: Employment/Resume Experience
The truth is, in this day and age, it’s not often you see a resume without volunteer experience listed. For those new to paid employment, volunteering may be the only experience the applicant may have – and it’s valued.
Volunteering shows that:
Someone took a chance and accepted you in their organization.
You are reliable and capable.
You can manage your time well.
You care about the community.
You have practical experience, some of which may translate perfectly to a paid role’s responsibilities.
You can find all kinds of practical experience when volunteering that you can list on your resume - and you should be listing this experience!
Leadership: Perhaps you’ve had a role where you looked after a team of other volunteers or looked after an area on your own.
Problem Solving: Maybe you’ve handled the admission for an event and had to deal with customer complaints, or you were at the volunteer check-in and helped volunteers get orientated.
Customer Service: Anytime you worked with or interacted with the public, this can be demonstrated as customer service.
Attention to Detail: If you had a role that required you to be detail oriented (for example, checking in guests at a gala, or signing out library books at a hospital) these kinds of roles show that you are thorough.
Team Player: You may have volunteered for a position in which you were a part of the team (pay attention to which role you played on that team as all roles are valuable). Did you hand out water at a fun run – were you the leader, an efficient worker, were you working hard behind the scenes?
Flexibility: If you had a volunteer role in which you had to change tasks often or had schedules changed – this shows your willingness to be flexible.
Communication: Did you relay instructions to people, did you have to email or text with your supervisor, or plan a program? These (among many other examples) highlight your ability to be an effective communicator.
Here’s a great article about how to include volunteer work on a resume:
Area #2: Scholarships, Education and Post-Secondary Requirements
Volunteering, service, community service, community involvement - they all pretty much mean the same thing: providing your time, knowledge, experience and efforts to a cause with no expectation of financial payment. Most scholarship applications require evidence of this type of involvement. In fact, there are some scholarship awards that are strictly about involvement in the community!
Be sure to keep an active and up-to-date list of all the volunteer roles you’ve held and the organizations or events in which you’ve volunteered.
Reference Letters: Whether for employment, scholarship or post-secondary applications – it’s great to get Letters of Reference from the volunteer manager, staff member, or volunteer who directly supervised you. Keep in mind a couple of things:
Ask for them in a timely manner. It’s difficult for a volunteer manager to remember your involvement in an event or program if it took place 3 years earlier. Ask for the letter when you’re leaving the organization or perhaps after a project you’ve worked on, or if you’re still volunteering, before it’s needed for your application.
But don’t ask too early. Be realistic in your expectations – depending on the level of your involvement. If you’ve volunteered for a one-time, one-day event, the letter may only state what your responsibilities were. Don’t expect it to address what an amazing worker you are – it may be difficult for the writer to know that based on only a few hours - especially if they didn’t supervise you directly. As well, if you have a longer-term role, it's easier to write a more detailed reference letter, but give them time to get to know you first. Otherwise the letter may not have much weight.
Education and Post-Secondary Requirements:
There are a lot of programs in a variety of universities, colleges and learning institutes that require students to volunteer as part of the course requirement. This is also called servicelearning or sometimes experiential learning. It may or may not have anything to do with your area of study.
There are also programs that require volunteer or community involvement to be accepted into the program. Some social work programs, for example, ask that students have a minimum of 70 hours volunteer experience before even applying to the program. Medicine is another area in which students must have volunteer experience to be considered.
Considerations: Keep in mind that your hours may not be in sync with the needs of the organization in which you’d like to volunteer. In some cases, you may only need 5-10 hours of volunteer work. If you’re volunteering at an event or at an organization where programs do not require ongoing involvement, those hours might be easily accommodated. However, not all non-profits have those type of opportunities – and especially not within your time constraints.
Also, realize that you are one of many, many students who are in the same situation and inundating non-profit organizations with similar requests.
What this means for you is that:
You have to be prepared to investigate many organizations.
You have to give yourself and the organization some time to find the right opportunity. The more lead time, the better your chances of finding an opportunity that’s a good fit for you, the organization and your class requirements.
You may have to consider volunteering for a longer period of time than the minimum requirement for your class. Once you consider interviewing, orientation, and training – it may take as much time to get you ready to volunteer as you’ll be spending volunteering. This is not a great investment for the organization if you leave as soon as you’ve met your required volunteer hours.
Area #3: Career Exploration and Contacts
Volunteering can be a great way to “try on” a career or at least see what the culture is in that environment. A good example of this is if you’re interested in health care. Volunteering in a hospital is an opportunity to see what it feels like to be in that setting (you may like it more or less than you thought) or perhaps you’re interested in a career in theatre, volunteering as an interpreter or tour guide can help you see if your expectations of performing and reality are in sync. Even if your area of interest does not have traditional volunteer roles, you might still be able to “job shadow” for a day, which is not volunteering, but you might see an opportunity where you could help and propose a volunteer position for yourself.
Of course, volunteering is an awesome way to see if you might be interested in a career in the non-profit sector!
Volunteering in any area (not just in the career area in which you’re interested) can be beneficial in gaining contacts for the future. It is not uncommon for organizations to go on to hire their volunteers for paid positions - whether that’s for summer jobs or permanent career jobs.
You’ve probably heard that it’s not as much what you know as who you know – which may or may not be true - but certainly word of mouth and personal recommendations can go a long way to helping you to connect with people with whom you can learn from, get hired by, or get a foot in the door for an area of interest.
For a more complete list of benefits of volunteering click here.