Jun. 26

How To Apply Your Volunteer Work to Your Career

MaggieToday's guest post is written by Maggie O'Neill, a jill-of-all-trades combining a career in editing with other interests in hiking, running, and raising two kids. In her spare time, she volunteers to do her church newsletter as well as does spontaneous litter pick-up in her neighborhood with her kids. Her latest interest in Online schooling has given her new opportunities to expand her knowledge and potential career goals to pursue.

Volunteering during college can provide a great way to give back to the community, and it doesn't exactly leave you in the hole either. I'm well into my fourth decade of life now and continue to list volunteer activities on my resume; sometimes these say more about me than my "job" skills.

The newsletter I put together for my church (requiring many more volunteer hours than I like) shows that I'm interested in giving back, I'm capable of working with others, and that I'm a leader -- not to mention what it implies about my editing, computer and photography skills.

It shows that I'm not a Mrs. Megalomaniac and could just be that well-rounded person you are seeking to fill a job.

Volunteer experiences are nearly always memorable

But there are more advantages to volunteering than that. I'll never forget my first true volunteer position while I was in college. My parents had been fairly supportive of me (although I worked multiple jobs, lived at home, and did 18-credit semesters to cram in as much "knowledge" as possible), and I thought that it was my turn to give back. Through a regional program, I volunteered to become a tutor of an elementary school student and soon began meeting once a week for an hour with a fourth-grader who was struggling with grades. Not only did we come from different cultures, we were also racially different. Her first question to me was: "How come you have so many freckles?"

Nonetheless, we were soon on track, and I was helping her with her math and language skills. I took the approach of "repeat, repeat, repeat" and created flash cards to help the skills she needed, sink in. We were soon high-fiving each other during our sessions in a side hall of the library as she progressed.

I worked with her for one semester, and I know I was as surprised as she was when we saw the effects: ALL of her grades went up on her next report card – she had straight B's - and even made the honor roll. I'll never forget that moment of pure "Wow!" and the realization that just a little bit of extra attention can go a long way.

It'd be great to say that this led me to a degree in teaching. It didn't – not then anyway. I was initially an anthropology major and that soon turned to English after I realized I didn't care about the difference between australopithecus afaranensis and australopithecus robustus – although I certainly was quite capable of spelling each.

Yet, that one volunteering opportunity has served me well. As I gained professional experience after college, I was often asked about meaningful experiences or ways that I had taken steps toward leadership. This opportunity was helpful as I became a volunteer Sunday school teacher in college (ironic, since I was a budding atheist then), gained a key leadership role at a YMCA summer camp (later leading to a semester off in college for travel abroad), did a summer of volunteer work outside of Pittsburgh, Pa., and much more.

Volunteer experiences almost always positively impact your life

However, more than anything, that experience has impacted my vision about life – how some things (be they people, professions or even plants in the backyard) can thrive with just a little extra bit of attention. Ironically, several years ago, as I realized that the print journalism field, the focus of my professional career, was beginning to end, I did begin an adventure in online schooling: and that was toward a teacher certification program.

The truth is that volunteering can also act as a rudder when it comes to your professional life. Online schooling not only offers you an opportunity for you to change course in a career or simply to get your career course on track. It also gives you the opportunity to take your volunteer activities and merge them into a field where you can have an impact. This is true whether you are interested in computer schools, online social work programs or even an MBA in project management. Take it from me -- volunteering can be one of the most game-changing experiences in your life. I want to hear from you about how your volunteer activities have helped you in life: did they give you a new vision, send you to a new career, expand your insight or more? Tell us about your experiences and how volunteering has given you a heads-up.

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