Why Volunteering Can Help You Get Ahead

Written by: Vicki Arnstein
Published on: 24 Mar 2015

Lending a hand can offer real career benefits as well as the chance to give something back, reports Vicki Arnstein

Fitting voluntary activities into your already-hectic schedule can seem an impossible task. But beyond the warm, fuzzy feeling and the chance to help someone else out, could there also be a professional reason for getting involved?

There are thousands of opportunities available to volunteers and millions of people in the UK already doing some form of voluntary work. According to the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), an estimated 15.2 million people volunteer once a month. While many workplaces offer formal volunteering schemes that take employees away from their jobs on secondments or project-based assignments, many individuals organise their own volunteering in conjunction with charities, local groups or bodies such as the CIPD.

"The key reason our mentors volunteer is that they want to give something back. But skill development is a secondary benefit," says Katerina Rudiger, head of skills and policy campaigns at the CIPD, who runs its Steps Ahead Mentoring programme. 

Steps Ahead members can become mentees of young people (aged between 18 and 24), who access the programme via the Job Centre. The mentors offer around six one-on-one sessions to help the young people improve their employability. 

Volunteering opportunities inevitably bring further benefits. A school governorship, for example, can prompt you to think about the gaps in your skills and knowledge, says Rudiger. And she adds:

“There have been occasions where maybe people haven't had line management experience, for example, and taking part in Steps Ahead helps them get promoted."

 Katerina Rudiger, head of skills and policy campaigns at the CIPD

Helen Greenwood, who is currently in the process of starting her own HR consultancy, has done a range of voluntary work. 

The former HR policy manager for FERA, an agency of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, is applying to be a school governor. Previously, she volunteered within a school in Harrogate, helping with CV writing workshops and mock interview sessions, and also worked for the Right to Read initiative through York Cares, which involved going into a school regularly and listening to children read. 

"Volunteering has opened up a whole world of coaching and career benefits for me,” says Greenwood. “It helps keep your skills up to date, helps develop further skills and allows you to give something back.

“It is also quite a good leveller. Going into schools re-emphasises how difficult it is for young people today to get into work. You can forget that when you've worked in a profession for 20-plus years."

Helen Greenwood

Rudiger agrees: "Volunteering helps our mentors really understand the challenges different groups are facing. Many of these people work in roles which involve recruitment and talent management, and they say it helps them understand how they are going to attract different talent."

Find out more about Steps Ahead mentoring here.