Work & Education

The power of volunteering

Sarah Levis, a blogger from Canada shares another insightful article about her experience of voluntary work and how it helped in her search to find paid employment.

In my last article, I talked about, when looking for work, how it’s just as important for us to give ourselves a chance to do a great job as it is to find an employer who is willing to give us a chance to do a great job. I’d like to talk this time about volunteering, and the ways that you may be able to leverage volunteer experience into a job. This is good advice for anyone, not just people with disabilities.

I volunteered my way into the best job I ever had. It took me a long time, yes, but I was in school for many of the years that I volunteered and not looking to work at the agency anyway. They’d hired me as a student the summer that I had my brain surgery, and they eventually hired me, disabilities and all, several years later. I had to interview, of course. But they knew me, they knew how I’d interact with the people that the agency supported, and they knew that I was reliable and could represent the agency well in the community. That’s how I came to assist students with disabilities in the local schools with transition planning.

I knew nothing about transition planning when I started, and the learning curve was steep. But sticking to the agency’s values of facilitating community participation and fostering independence whenever possible, within a planning framework where the person remained always at the centre, kept me on track. And the agency had already seen that I could learn new tasks quickly and solve problems creatively. They had faith in me – more than I had in myself some days!

It was a good position for me because the school and the agency office was in walking distance of my home, and part of my position’s budget went to paying for cabs for me on the days that I couldn’t walk because of time or weather. The students and I also related to each other well because of the fact that I had disabilities myself.

What kind of job do you want? If you’re feeling like no one would hire you to do that job right now because of your disabilities, is there a way that you can start doing volunteer work in the sector in which that job is located (if not that job itself?) Any sort of volunteer work involving helping people looks good on the resume for positions in a number of areas, and can bring a great deal of joy to others. Playing board games weekly with an elderly person in a long-term care facility, tutoring underprivileged children, or doing some sort of volunteer work with people with intellectual disabilities shows potential employers that you have the patience and compassion to work in a human services job. If your interest is travel, perhaps a small travel agency could use some help a couple of mornings a week with filing and general administrative work. People with a passion for websites or social media might consider donating those services to a non-profit organization that can’t afford to hire someone to do that work for them.

Doing work like this might not only get you a job with the people you volunteer for… the experience you get might provide you with the foundation to get education that you need to get a better job, or lead directly to the better job itself!

Think about how you can leverage your volunteer experience in your job search. If you don’t have any volunteer experience, what kind would be most helpful to you right now? Make a list of where you think you might be able to get it, and make it a goal to call people from the places on your list within the next two weeks!

And remember… assume that the resources are there to meet your goals; it’s just a matter of finding them. Sometimes everything doesn’t fall into place as nicely as we like, but there are always at least a couple of ways to meet a goal. You’ll get there.

By Sarah Levis

One Comment

  1. Sara’s advice is both relevant and timely as well as being an excellent bit of reading for any jobseekers, but particularly those with a disability. Competition is fierce, employers are, almost inevitably, faced with an experienced pool of labour from which to fill ever decreasing vacancies. There are few favours about so how to stand out from the crowd, let alone how to persuade an employer that your ability is your USP and a disability just part of “you”, a line on your cv and not a show stopper ?

    Volunteering DOES makes a difference. You would be surprised at how many employers value evidence of experience and powerful feedback. The fact that this was obtained via a voluntary unsalaried position rarely makes a difference if the accompanying testimonial is sound. Employers love seeing “actuals”. Real life experience in their business or a similar area. But when you volunteer it may not be possible to get that exact match so focus on roles that give you a chance to demonstrate ability in communication, planning at any level, decision making and put simply, evidence of “responsibility”. Apart from a hopefully satisfying experience that helps others in a way you feel important, volunteering is a powerful self development tool that not everyone recognises for what it is. It is not something for nothing. It is useful at many levels but it can showcase your talent and shine a light on an application that could otherwise be swamped.
    Cheers, Mark

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