How Volunteering Helped Me Develop My Professional Skills
I am both an introvert and shy, so I always found networking very difficult. But when I’m volunteering, I’m there for a reason, I’m passionate about the cause, and it seems easy to talk to someone else who’s interested in the same way. I’ve met a lot of wonderful people this way, and even came in touch with a couple of job opportunities (which didn’t work out, but I made great contacts). Some of the people I’ve met through my volunteers’ group are now good friends.
2. Public speaking
If networking scared me, try speaking in front of fifty people. But I’ve done that many times now, helped by the fact that most of those people were much younger and more scared than me (the students we work with: mostly teenagers and a few in their early twenties). Don’t get me wrong, it was still scary at first. But I talked to them, I presented on topics that might help them professionally, and it got easier each time.
Everyone needs selling skills, and a marketing professional needs them even more. This wasn’t something I thought I could do well, but then I worked at fund-raising and sat behind the counter at one of our handicraft sales. The surprise: I enjoyed it! The most important lesson I learned here: if you’re passionate about the product, you are a much better salesperson.
4. Managing teams
Being in marketing means I have always worked in small teams, so it’s been an added advantage to add to my experience in this area through volunteering. I’ve coordinated projects, organized events, managed activities. Doing it for a small volunteer-run non-profit was an easy way to try: even if I failed spectacularly, everyone was likely to be more understanding.
Again, small teams equate to me not having much experience at recruiting at my day job (till a year ago). But I screened and interviewed many students who wanted to be associated with our program, so I got much better at reading facial expressions and body language, and judging attitudes and personality.
The part of my volunteering work that I love best is talking to our students, finding out what’s happening in their lives, learning about their hopes and interests, and offering them advice and suggestions when I can. I am eager to learn from them and watch them grow into independent, strong people. I started out volunteering five years ago as a way to use my time better, to help others. I have learned so much in these five years that it surprises me when someone says it’s nice of me to ‘give back’ to society. I gain as much as I give: all that I’ve learned, all the interesting people I met, all the fun I had, and that rare wonderful moment when a student I knew graduates and does us proud. So what are you waiting for?