What’s Volunteering Got To Do With My Job Search?

I often see job seekers failing to represent themselves in their resumes (and thus, of course, in their interviews) in ways that best represents their skills, abilities, values, interest, and experiences. Almost every time when I probe a bit deeper in an exploratory conversation, usually through our Crossroads Career Step 3 – Aptitude, I find hidden nuggets that employers would value.

One prime arena that is often overlooked is an individual’s volunteer work. Whether it is for a charitable organization that the job seeker believes in, a social responsibility effort that has been facilitated in a former organization, or special projects outside their normal duties with their former employer, all of these possess opportunity to showcase what you do best that the future employer needs most.

If we follow the pattern of Jesus, we will choose to serve others without expecting anything in return. Scripture tells us: “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 35:40). And “A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed” (Proverbs 11:25). These are excellent reasons to volunteer, and a servant’s heart should ultimately remain our top priority. But neither should those valuable experiences be overlooked when examining your aptitude and career options!

One reason I believe many people miss this opportunity relates to treating their resume as a job description matching exercise rather than a place to set out their key distinctives (see our “Is Your Resume Distinctive?” post for more on this topic). When a person reflects holistically, and taps into their passions and motivations, they can get a more complete picture to then present what they truly can do best. 

  • Think about all that you may have learned through volunteer work, whether you acquired a distinctive skill or deeper knowledge of a topic. Hmmm.
  • Think about aspects of an industry or department that you gained greater exposure to and would like to pursue further. Hmmm.
  • Think about the relationships that you forged or strengthened through those experiences. Hmmm.
  • Think about the outcomes that manifested due to the work that you and others performed. Hmmm.
  • Think about what insights you gained or passions that were ignited due to your giving of your time. Hmmm.
  • Think about the possibilities that could unfold if you sought out ways to actively pursue some of what you just thought about above. Hmmm.

Here is a personal example for me. Years ago I experienced the benefits of Crossroads Career when I found myself unemployed following the demise Arthur Andersen. Later, I began to volunteer my time to begin and grow a local ministry in Minnesota. That led to incredible experiences in serving others, recruiting volunteers, and developing content. That led to my being asked to be on the national board, and now I serve as the board chair. That volunteer experience has been on my resume for over 15 years, and has now become my primary vocational focus.

I encourage you to take a few minutes. Think. Reflect. Where have you volunteered your time and what could it lead to? I believe you’ll be glad you did!

Dave Sparkman currently serves as the volunteer Crossroads Career board chair and local ministry leader. He is also the founder and managing director of Spark Your Culture, a corporate culture consulting firm. Prior to that he worked at UnitedHealth Group, a Fortune #5 public company, serving in the role of Chief Culture Officer. His unemployment experience came from the implosion of Arthur Andersen, where he served as the West Region Managing Partner, People.

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