People volunteer for many different reasons, from helping local communities to gaining work experience. From a careers perspective, volunteering can help you:
- develop your skills or to gain new ones; this could be part of supporting a change of career direction, developing a career or finding a new sense of purpose;
- bridge the transition back into a work environment after a break;
- learn more about yourself and your capabilities, and gain more self-confidence;
- make new contacts and develop your networking skills;
To the get the most out your volunteering, decide why you want to volunteer in the first place. This will help you choose the best opportunity to apply for and where to look.
Know why you want to volunteer
- Why are you interested in volunteering? Understanding this will help you to decide what sort of opportunities would be most likely to meet your needs.
- Do you need to find work experience for you chosen career?
- What are you passionate about? Do you want to work with a particular client group or in a particular field where you can use existing skills or develop new ones?
Understand what you can offer
- Have you got specialist skills or expertise to share with others? Try a quick audit of your skills with help from our skills and qualities page.
- Have you got particular qualities to offer, such as 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 in order for you to get involved?
- How far are you able and prepared to travel to undertake the work? Would volunteering from home be more viable?
If you decide to get involved as a volunteer, 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. So be realistic about the sort of contribution you can make as a volunteer, alongside any OU study, existing work or personal commitments. Would the occasional ‘one off’ event or a short-term project best suit the time you have available, or are you able to make a regular, more long-term commitment?
Treat the application process in the same way as applying for a job
Like the job market, volunteering sector can be a very competitive market, use the tips and advice in the CVs, application and interview section of our website to help you write your covering letters, update your CV and application forms.
Record and reflect on your voluntary work
During the experience record it as you go along
- What tasks or activities were you responsible for?
- What results or outcomes did you achieve?
- What did you learn from your experience?
After the experience reflect on what you gained
- What specific skills did you develop through this work?
- What did you learn about yourself, your capabilities and your preferences?
- What impact (if any) does this experience have on your future career plans?
Think about how you will show this experience in your CV, on an application form or during an interview and how it might relate to your future career plans.
- 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.