Any volunteers? How giving up your free time is good for your career


Millions of Brits give up their time to work for free every year. Whether you’re employed, looking for work or studying, a temporary, part-time or full-time unpaid role gives you something money can’t buy – the sense of well-being that comes from contributing to your community or a cause you care about.

Volunteering can also help you develop important work skills, experience and personal qualities that employers value highly. Here are five ways to see to it that volunteering does your career good.

Explore your options

If you’re just starting out in the world of work, or thinking of other avenues, volunteering is a great way to find out what it’s like to work in a particular field you’re interested in without committing yourself prematurely. Chances are there is a volunteering opportunity related to pretty much any line of work you can think of. For best results, be open to all ideas with your search and look for an opportunity that really fires your imagination (rather than simply trying to fill gaps in your CV)!

Learn new skills

While the work you do and the relationships you develop while volunteering can sometimes lead to paid work, don’t expect miracles. The positive effect of volunteering on your professional prospects is likely to be indirect.

That said, practically all volunteer work requires you to develop the central skills of teamwork, communication and relationship-building, all of which are necessities in the job market. Demonstrating that you’ve developed these skills in the volunteer sector will strongly increase your appeal to prospective employers. Beyond these core skills, depending on the area you’re volunteering in, you can pick up skills in anything from administration, IT and PR to gardening, catering and driving… the list is pretty much endless. 

Get experience

You may have bags of get-up-and-go but if you’re CV shows you’re short on experience, landing paid work can be a long, drawn-out and frustrating process. Dedication to a worthy cause and a willingness to learn new skills could tip the scales in your favour. Employers like people who show enthusiasm, energy and drive, and there are few better ways to demonstrate those characteristics than by doing voluntary work.

Be in the game

If you’ve been unemployed for a while, getting out and about, meeting people and staying active through volunteer work can help you restore or maintain your self-confidence, which is vital when going for jobs. It’s possible (though no guarantees) that the people you’re working with will have contacts who are offering the kind of paid work you’re looking for. You could even find that you have a particular talent for the skills you’re using in your volunteer work. And that could help change your career direction completely.

Broaden your network

You could think of volunteering as an extended networking meeting. If you’ve chosen your role carefully, you might quickly benefit from meeting lots of new people in a field you’d like to work in. The more informal volunteer setting is ideal for making friends and useful contacts in a more relaxed and stress-free environment, where people are more likely to see you at your very best. More on how to network here.


Related information

The searchable volunteer databases at TimeBank, Do-it and Idealist are all good places to start looking for roles and thinking about what you want to get out of your volunteering experience.  

The Charity Commission for England and Wales, the government department responsible for the charity sector, provides a list of all registered charities on its website. 

Of course, if there is a particular organisation whose work interests you, just pick up the phone and give them a call – no doubt they’ll be happy to hear from you.

Find out more in workSMART’s Voluntary Work section.