Volunteering & employability: the hidden power of voluntary work

Written by
Bill Richards

17 Nov 2016

17 Nov 2016 • by Bill Richards

The value of volunteering

David Cameron’s choice of job after leaving Downing Street says much about his view of volunteering. The former Prime Minister announced this week that he is to chair the National Citizen Service, a programme that gets teenagers volunteering in their local community.

But it’s not just newly-retired Prime Ministers who value volunteering. Millions of Britons volunteer every year: more than half of us are thought to have done some kind of voluntary work.

Few things benefit both individuals and society more obviously than volunteering. Voluntary work allows the volunteer to give back to their community, while also boosting their self-confidence and sense of self-fulfilment. Employers value volunteering too. 

Mind the perception gap

A recent report by Indeed and the Mayor of London’s volunteering programme 'Team London' revealed that two-thirds of recruiters are drawn to candidates who have volunteering experience.

Even more strikingly, the research found that two out of five recruiters ask candidates about voluntary work during the selection process. More than half of decision-makers said they would use volunteering experience as a deciding factor when choosing between two candidates.

Yet those looking for a job are surprisingly coy about mentioning their volunteering experience. Of the 7million CVs currently posted by jobseekers on Indeed’s UK site, fewer than 8% list voluntary work among their experience. A third of jobseekers polled in the research said it had never crossed their mind that voluntary work could help with their job search.

This disconnect between recruiters’ appetite for people with volunteering experience and candidates’ reluctance to mention voluntary work suggests there’s a “perception gap” between the value that each attributes to volunteering.

A shout out for skills

Employers place great value on the skills that volunteering can enhance – such as teamwork, confidence and self-motivation – and jobseekers who highlight any voluntary work they have done will give themselves an edge over other candidates.

Those who hide their volunteering light under a bushel risk missing out on the best jobs as employers change the way they recruit too.

As the competition for top talent grows, employers are increasingly moving away from recruiting for specific jobs, and instead seeking individuals with the relevant passion and enthusiasm that align with their company culture.

So for jobseekers the real value of volunteering lies not just in the simple fact of having done voluntary work, but in the skills and traits that it helps develop.

Showcasing volunteering on CVs

Whether you volunteered as a way of gaining specific experience to boost your career prospects, or just out of the desire to give something back, you shouldn’t shy away from leveraging it on your CV.

Here are a few points to consider:

  1. Give yourself credit where credit is due – if you have volunteered before, don’t be bashful about it.
  2. Don’t underestimate how highly employers rate volunteering – the figures speak for themselves.
  3. Volunteering adds value to your CV, but don’t forget to mention the skills you get from it too. These include communication skills, self-motivation and teamwork. 
  4. Volunteering work also adds depth to you as an individual. It reveals something of your character, and in a tie-breaker hiring scenario it can make you stand out from rival candidates.
  5. Don’t just volunteer for the sake of it, but make it your passion! Volunteering can be rewarding and if you’re really passionate about a certain cause, your enthusiasm will shine through to potential employers.

Volunteering clearly offers big benefits to both the community and the volunteer. Whether you are a jobseeker or employer, it can bring strong benefits.

Finally, remember that businesses are built on people – and businesses are invariably attracted to talented, motivated and well-rounded people.

When applying for jobs in the future, don’t forget to mention your volunteering experience. And if you haven’t volunteered yet, maybe it’s time to do something great – for you, your community and your career.