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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.

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Find volunteering opportunities

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.

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.


    Search for opportunities in Africa, Asia and the Americas.

  • VSO International

    Find projects for skilled volunteers based across the globe.

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

    Find advice on how you can set up a volunteer scheme.

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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

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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.

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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. Your career planning guide is available to current students and those who have studied with the OU in the last three years.

You'll need to be signed in to access the guide.

Last updated 2 years ago