“You discover yourself in losing yourself in the service of others”.Ghandi
All across the globe, people in every country, sector and of all ethnicities volunteer their time, and give their resources to help/support varied causes, events or efforts. But what exactly is volunteering? According to Wikipedia “Volunteering is generally considered an altruistic activity and is intended to promote goodness or improve human quality of life”. Today, people volunteer in the communities where they live and work, schools they attend (or those their children do), at church, or in regions being affected by natural disasters, political conflicts or economic challenges. As such, there are many established organizations, clubs, and societies, and companies that mobilize people/staff to get involved and take part in said initiatives.
Last week, I spent three days volunteering at my professional association, the American Society for Training & Development’s (ASTD) pre- conference workshops, held at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington DC. These workshops were precursors to the real big event, which is the ASTD 2014 International Conference & Exposition which “brings the training and development industry to life”. This international conference brings together thousands of learning/training and development professionals from across the world to Washington, D.C., to share best practices and insights. And sure enough, I met learning and development professionals from government ministries in Jamaica, who were participating in the workshops and attending the conference. You can just imagine how happy and excited I was to see learning and professional representing from home, benefitting from the leading trends in learning and development. I am also equally confident and optimistic that, they will take back the tools and new insights gained, and use them to improve their learning and development solutions, thereby improving human performance across the public sector.
Having said all that, I will go back to the focus of this post, which is highlight a few of the many reasons everyone should volunteer:
1. Great way to show your brand, build your network and meet new people: As a relative transplant to the Washington DC Metro Area, I left my comfort zone and home (Jamaica) for a totally new country, and, some would say to start another chapter of my life. You could only imagine how daunting it was to, try to find a place in a whole new world, where a friend or colleague isn’t just a call or short drive away. One of the first things I did was to find my professional association, and become a member. On becoming a member, I was truly amazed at how dynamic the Metro DC-ASTD Chapter was. The Chapter has a myriad of program and opportunities to network with brilliant and talented colleagues in the field. But, the most surprising part came when I realized that, volunteers are the lifeline of organizations such as these. The varied programs and events are staffed by members with full-time and demanding jobs which they have to balance with their different roles. Yet, these members diligently volunteer to contribute to the development of their field. Over the following months, I was able to do many informational interviews (each person referred me to another) with peers, who helped me get “a lay of the land”, better understand the learning and development industry here, and guide my job search. As such, I can tell you truly that these opportunities made my transition to the USA much less challenging.
2. Fun way to learn: Not only did I have the amazing experiencing of meeting new people, exploring the city, engaging with like-minded peers and other wonderful volunteers, but I learnt a lot and got a huge boost to my ongoing professional development efforts. Over those 3 days, I benefitted immensely from the discussions, and conversations with learning partners (from all across the states and other parts of the world), as they shared their experiences, ideas and how the learning and development function works in their organizations. Therefore, I say kudos to the Designing Learning certificate program participants, and our most engaging and fun knowledgeable facilitator who has an amazing grasp of the content.
3. Awesome way to lend support/contribute to a cause/effort/event: My volunteering experience dates back to my days as an undergraduate at The University of the West Indies (UWI) Mona. As a participant in the Leadership Development Program, we were encouraged to find projects in the surrounding communities to lend our efforts to. Many of these projects positively changed the lives of children, the elderly, or just members of the various communities. As students we contributed to schools (donated computers, organized book drives, tutoring), helped in children/old age homes/visited orphaned by HIV-AIDS, or simply painted a pedestrian crossing. And though I wasn’t a member of clubs such as Kiwanis, Lions or Rotary, I saw the huge impact that the work of volunteers in those organization made, and how they changed lives. I also got to see the gratefulness of the people whose life were touched by those efforts, and the sense of fulfillment it gave the volunteers.
4. Effective way to practice and hone skills: “If you don’t use it, you lose it. I fancy myself a good writer with ways to go, and as such I am keen on improving my writing skills. When I declared my theme for this year -Increase 2014, I decided I would pursue opportunities to increase my skill in this area. So, as well as starting my Blog, I responded to a call for volunteers from the Metro DC-ASTD to join the Membership Outreach team. The team is responsible for recognizing noteworthy members of the chapter for feature in the chapter’s newsletter .In my role, I have the opportunity to interview selected members and write profiles which are published in the Beltway Bulletin. In doing this, I get to connect with and engage with talented new people, and practice my writing skills. And the best part of it is that, I don’t have to leave home (unless I want to), and it only takes a time commitment of about 6 hours a month (via phone or email).
5. Enhances your resume or prospects in your job search: I’m sure you’ve all heard the phrase “It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you”. When you volunteer, you get a chance to meet and talk to people. People who you would probably never meet if you sat down at home doing nothing, or mindlessly submitting hundreds of resumes online. People know people, or may be able to give you the much-needed encouragement and leads , to help you in finding that “great opportunity”. And overtime, these people may become your friends or useful references that can attest to your work ethic and personality. I must also add that, volunteering is a great way to explain gaps in work history on your resume. So whether you’ve been unemployed voluntarily or involuntarily, being able to share with the interviewer(s), how you have used that time to continue your personal and professional development will be a huge plus.
6. Develops skills and builds experience: Recent college/university graduates often bemoan the absence of work experience, given the fact that, they have no work history. In addition to internships, volunteering presents a viable option for them to gain experience in their chosen field. By targeting companies and organizations, recent graduates can approach specific organizations/interest groups for opportunities to get hands on experience. However, it is important to note that, volunteering requires the same level of professionalism, dedication, positive attitude and work ethic that would attend a paid job. As such, the decision to volunteer should not be treated any less seriously. The soft skills gained from working in teams, communicating with internal and external customers/stakeholders, applying technical knowledge, can be used as excellent talking points in behavioral interviews, where you may be asked to share you STARs (Situation, Task, Action, Result) stories. And like I always say, there is no great difference between two good candidates with similar education and training. The main separator will be those attributes and experiences, which will enable you to show the interviewer(s) how you can add value to the organization.
So what are you are you waiting for? Go find your opportunity!
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