How can volunteering lead to paid work?

Monday, 12 September 2022

There are several ways volunteering can progress your career. You can gain valuable skills, make industry connections, and impress employers. Volunteering can help forge your passions into a career.

Will and Josh are two of the people EPIC Assist has helped to do just that.

Will, who had been visiting Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures since he was a child, began volunteering there before he finished high school. Will’s love for animals and passion for the outdoors made this the perfect position for him.

Will wrangles a croc in a murky pond using a rope
EPIC job seeker, Will, works at Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures in Wangetti.

He contacted EPIC when he finished school, looking for paid work, and the team helped negotiate a transition from volunteering to paid work. Will now spends his days cleaning enclosures, feeding the animals, and participating in reptile and crocodile shows.

Josh had been volunteering at The Australian Armour and Artillery Museum for two years before contacting EPIC in Year 12, to help him find paid employment. The team at EPIC suggested he work at the museum and approached management to help him achieve just that.

Josh stands on top of a tank, cleaning the roof. He is in a warehouse surrounded by other tanks.
EPIC job seeker, Josh, works at the Australian Armour & Artillery Museum.

In the time he has been working there, Josh has noticed his confidence growing and has started on his long-term goal to work at the War Memorial Museum in Canberra.

What is volunteering?

‘Volunteering is time willingly given for the common good and without financial gain.’ The word volunteering covers a variety of activities within society. They can be classified as formal and informal . Formal volunteering takes place in organisations and is structured, whereas informal volunteering takes place outside of an organisation.

Not all activities are considered volunteering. These can include:

  • Direct family responsibilities
  • Foster carers
  • Internships
  • Mandatory government programs
  • Formal work experience
  • Mandated court orders including community service and fines
  • Compulsory educational service learning (where students are required to volunteer as part of a course)

Learn new skills

Volunteering is a prime opportunity to learn new skills and expand on ones you already have. This is especially true for volunteer roles in jobs or industries that you are not used to. It allows you to learn and try new skills in a relatively risk-free environment, and possibly discover interests you were not even aware of.

You may be surprised how useful your skills may be in other areas. Transferable skills are skills and qualities that can be useful in a variety of jobs and industries. It is likely you already have skills employers want; it is just a matter of highlighting them.

Look at your jobs and responsibilities and try to determine what skills they give you. Do you work in customer service? You probably have interpersonal skills. Find yourself mediating arguments? That is conflict resolution. Do you assign everyone tasks at the beginning of the day? That would be delegation.

Add to your resume

You can add the skills and experience you gain from volunteering to your resume. The work you do while volunteering is just as credible as any paid work; some even consider it more valuable because it is unpaid.

Just like paid work, for any volunteering, list your role and any responsibilities you had. This can give employers a brief insight into what you did while volunteering, and what you are capable of.

Employers value volunteer work

Employers love volunteers. Not only does it highlight your skills within a particular field, but it also demonstrates motivation and enthusiasm. By offering your time without financial gain, you can show employers that you are compassionate, with a genuine interest in helping others. Volunteering can help you stand out from other job candidates who have not taken the time to give back to society. It also demonstrates that you can take initiative.

Studies have shown that those with volunteering on their resume are 27% more likely to be hired. Another study found that people who volunteer anywhere from 20 to 99 hours a year are 7% more likely to be hired a year later than those who have not volunteered.

Learn about the industry

Taking on a volunteer role in an industry you want to work in is invaluable. Any experience you gain in that industry will lessen the learning curve should you be employed. That will also update your knowledge of that industry and how it operates. Try and take note of the culture, how connections work, and who you will be working with.

Volunteering can give you a good idea of what you would like to do within an industry and experience different jobs without job hopping. This is a good opportunity to take on leadership roles, work on different projects, and see what works for you.

Current industry knowledge is especially important for school leavers or anyone who has had a break from employment.

Expand your network

Volunteering has a variety of opportunities to meet new people, both within an organisation and within the community. By working with other people, you can foster social networking skills and build relationships. Networking is particularly important in business or creative industries, for example, and often leads to employment.

What is networking?

Networking is maintaining professional and personal relationships that you can use to help you further your career. These are anyone you interact with who may be able to offer you job opportunities, learning opportunities, or guidance. Network contacts can be family members, teachers, friends, and even fellow volunteers.

Maintaining these relationships can lead to long-lasting relationships, as well as develop communication skills.

Your self-confidence will grow

Volunteering can also help build up your self-confidence. Learning new skills and establishing new relationships are obvious signs of growth and improvement. Couple that with the fulfilling work of volunteering and you will feel your self-confidence sore!

Patience is key

Be aware that it can take a long time for any volunteering to lead to a paid position. It is not necessarily a reflection of your performance; many not-for-profit organisations have a limited number of paid positions available. Do not let that discourage you. If you are passionate about this organisation, stay focused and work hard.

Treat your volunteer position like a job. Show up on time, produce high quality work consistently. Your efforts will not go unnoticed.

How do I find volunteering opportunities?

Volunteering Australia is the leading organisation for volunteering in the country. They have several resources available and make it easy for anyone to find volunteering opportunities. There are also hubs specific to each state and territory available. They provide not only volunteer opportunities, but the volunteer rights and legal requirements specific to each state and territory.

If you, like Will and Josh, have a disability, injury, mental health condition, or health condition, EPIC Assist might be able to help you find work experience or volunteering that will lead to paid work.

EPIC Assist is a not-for-profit that specialises in helping people with disability prepare for, find, and keep a job they love. If you are not already registered with EPIC, contact us to find out how we can help you. 

State and territory volunteering hubs

For more articles about preparing for employment, visit our job seeker toolkit.

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