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How volunteering can help your career
Volunteering can help your career in a number of different ways, such as:
- developing your skills and getting experience in a new environment
- bridging the transition back into a work environment after a break
- making new contacts and developing your networking skills
To help you find and choose the best opportunity for your career, decide why you want to volunteer
- Are you looking for work experience to start or change your career?
- Do you want to develop specific skills?
- Do you want to pass your skills and experience onto others?
- Are you passionate about supporting particular causes?
Understand what you can offer
- What specialist skills or expertise can you share with others?
- What specific qualities can you offer? For example, do you have a creative approach to solving problems? An energetic attitude that inspires others? Or the ability to relate to others and empathise with them and their situation?
Recognise what you can commit to
- How much time have you got to offer around your existing commitments?
- Do you need to cover your basic expenses for you to get involved?
- How far are you able and prepared to travel to undertake the work?
Be realistic about the sort of contribution you can make, alongside your OU study, existing work or personal commitments. Your reliability and commitment to the organisation you work for is crucial – people are relying on you and expect that you will take your responsibilities as an unpaid worker seriously. Consider if a one-off event or short-term project (micro-volunteering) would suit your circumstances better.
If you’re claiming benefits, find out if and how volunteering may affect them.
- OpenLearn’s volunteering section - Provides a range of free introductory courses around volunteering, including information on using voluntary work to get ahead in the job market.
- Citizens Advice Bureau - Information on how volunteering affects your benefits.
- Disability Rights UK: work experience and volunteering factsheet - Includes information about work you may do, including voluntary work, while claiming health or disability-related benefits.
Find volunteering opportunities
Try a range of resources and different approaches to help you find an opportunity which suits you.
Look for advertised opportunities
There are many sites and organisations that promote volunteering vacancies, including OpportunityHub. You can focus on opportunities in your location, or if you need flexibility or if travel is a constraint, there are some organisations that offer volunteering from home.
Here are some websites for you to try
- OU Students Association – volunteer for a range of roles through the OU Student Association
- Do-It-UK-wide – Search for voluntary opportunities by location, your availability and preferred type of activity. Includes home-based opportunities
- NCVO – Find local volunteer centres in England
- Volunteer Scotland – Find voluntary work in Scotland
- Volunteering Wales – Search for volunteering opportunities in Wales
- Volunteer Now – Search for opportunities in Northern Ireland
- Volunteering Matters – Find opportunities to support local communities
- Charity Job – Find home-based, UK and international volunteer positions
You can also search for volunteer programmes and schemes that combine volunteering with conservation projects, focus on social issues or travel. There are some costs involved and example organisations to get you started including
- National Trust – Find a volunteer opportunity
- RNIB – Search for volunteering opportunities
- BUNAC - Search for opportunities in Africa, Asia and the Americas
- VSO International - Find projects for skilled volunteers based across the globe
- STA Travel – Find overseas projects and opportunities to get involved with
Network to find opportunities and apply speculatively
Not all volunteering opportunities are advertised. If there are particular types of experience you’re looking for and need inspiration or contacts, ask family, friends, and colleagues. Use your networking skills both face-to-face and online to find new contacts. It can also be useful to contact organisations directly to offer your services. Charity Choice provides ideas for organisations to approach across the UK.
Create your own volunteering opportunity
If you can’t find the right opportunity for you, consider creating it for yourself; for example, if you’re interested in helping others and there's a need in your community, could you set up a support group?
- Self Help UK offers further information on creating your own opportunities
- NCVO Knowhow have advice on how you can set up a volunteer scheme
Apply for volunteering opportunities
Treat the application process in the same way as applying for a paid job. The process can include completing an application form or CV and covering letter. It may also be followed by an interview.
If you’re applying speculatively to an organisation or for a particular role, explain in a covering letter why you want to volunteer, what experience you’re looking for and what you have to offer, and include a copy of your CV. Find tips and advice in our CVs, applications and interviews articles.
There will be some volunteer roles where you will need to go through checks with the Disclosure and Barring Service.
Show your volunteering experience on CVs and job applications
Whilst you are volunteering, keep a record of what you are doing, including:
- the skills you’re developing
- tasks and projects you’re involved in
- results and outcomes you achieved
- list any training you’re receiving
Think about how you will show this experience on your CV, on application forms or during interviews. Also think about how your experience will relate to your future career plans.
Make sure to highlight what you have gained from your volunteering that’s particularly relevant to the job role you’re applying for.
Your career planning guide
Deciding what you want to do with your career can feel like the start of an exciting journey, but it can also feel daunting if you're not sure where to start. This guide will help you:
- Learn about yourself and your skills
- Explore different careers, sectors and the world of work
- Make informed decisions about your career
- Plan your career journey
- Look and apply for jobs and work experience