Volunteering your tech skills can boost your IT career
Posted on
January 24, 2023
Volunteering can benefit your career in many ways.

I believe that using your professional skills to help others is one of the most fulfilling things you can do in life. If you are fortunate enough to have a job where helping others is your full-time occupation, then congratulations. If not, then maybe you should look into spending some time volunteering your skills and knowledge.

Volunteer work can and will boost your IT career profile. You could potentially land in a better position, increase your professional profile, or even just boost your internal value proposition with some healthy positive vibes. Let's zero in on how volunteering can directly bolster your IT career. Here are five ways you will benefit:

1) Lend a hand

The first and most obvious reason to volunteer is to help others. Your skill set in technology can be of great use to people who otherwise could not afford your experience and work. The principle of helping others should be at the root of your volunteer work.

When you focus on others, incredible things can happen. If you are a veteran of the technology industry, then having a volunteer passion can get others to flock to you. If you are new to the technology industry, it can improve your outlook in a lot of ways: workplace research suggests that volunteers are 27 percent more likely to land a job than non-volunteers.

2) Improve your intangible attributes

Include a "volunteer experience" section on your résumé if it’s relevant to your career path, or if you lack formal work experience. By doing this, you are showing that you are a responsible, charitable, and caring person involved in your community. When you are up against stiff competition, volunteer work can help you stand out against other candidates.

Volunteering conveys things hiring managers love, including an aptitude for teamwork, and an ability to support shared goals. Leadership also looks good on your résumé; I always recommend that those who volunteer ask for a leadership position, and take it if it is offered.

Leadership improves interpersonal skills and bolsters other soft skills — such as communication — that are crucial across all professions. Just the fact of seeking out a volunteer opportunity is evidence of self-motivation and commitment.

3) Know thyself

Volunteer work builds confidence. In that sense, it can also help you to get to know yourself, discovering hidden strengths or aptitudes.  Knowing your skills, accomplishments, interests, and values is a foundation of career success.

Volunteering puts you in touch with your own potential and can also help you see how other people view you and your strengths. It also helps you feel useful and productive. This can be particularly valuable during periods of unemployment (or underemployment).

4) Meet people and make connections

Volunteering can benefit your career in many ways.

I have written previously about the importance of building and managing a professional network. Volunteering provides an excellent opportunity to meet new people and make new professional connections. Keep a list of people you interact with while volunteering, and their contact information. These can include staff, board members, clients, or suppliers.

People who supervise volunteers are often leaders in your community and can be an excellent resource for landing a new job or a better job. If you are looking for a mentor, volunteer work can also be a way to find one: Mentors can help you succeed in your volunteer position as well as advancing your long-term career goals.

Also, if you are new to the technology industry, you can get some pretty good character and employment references. Being a dedicated and hard-working volunteer can potentially lead to a reference when job searching or applying for a post-secondary education program.

Some volunteer organizations even provide a work experience certificate that can be appended to a résumé or referenced during an interview.These certificates can show what skill you learned or the number of hours served. If you are not sure whether the organization provides such documentation, don’t be afraid to ask.

5) Exposure to other industries

Another benefit of volunteering is that it often gets you insde a workplace and/or industry entirely different from those familiar to you. If you are thinking about a specific career, or about changing careers, then volunteering lets you explore different occupations and industries — sometimes within the same organization.

For example, if you were to volunteer for your town’s Parks and Recreation Department, your would be exposed to a wide range of occupations including but not limited to: program specialist, department director, park superintendent, and event coordinator. You can talk to employees and get to know the specifics of a given job (including its challenges).

Who knows, maybe you figure out that you are skilled at something other than technology, or that a different occupation rewards your inner peace more.

Finding volunteer opportunities

Where should you look for volunteer opportunities? First, consider your current job: Are there departments you want to know more about? Are their charitable activities that you can support, or outreach activities that you could take charges? Are there areas of the company that could benefit from your technology skills?

Outside of where you work, you can often find listings for volunteer work on job sites like Indeed or Monster. Sometimes these listings are from nonprofits organizations or professional associations in your industry. Also, look around at local businesses, civic groups, arts organizations, community associations, or public service organizations like school districts and libraries.

Almost all of these various groups have technology needs. If you offer your services free of charge, then there's an excellent chance they will take you up on your offer.

Sticking to a schedule

How much should time should you spend doing volunteer work? This will vary from on person to the next. If you are hard-working and like to stay busy, then you could put in as much as eight hours a week. That would amount to a full day's work, so weigh your availability carefully.

I recommend sticking to four hour per week or less, just to play it safe. The exact amount of time will vary based on what you end up doing and how much there is for you to do, but do yourself a favor and don’t overcommit to the point that your main work or home life suffer. You can give too much of yourself.

Open up your life

Volunteering can benefit your career in many ways.

Volunteering can have a positive effect in unexpected ways. What if you were to volunteer to network an old school, and you find out that routers are the easiest thing you have ever done? You might offer to build a website, and teach yourself a whole new skill set. Learning new skills, in addition to being emotionally and spiritually fulfilling, helps your nurture a learning mindset that will your other skills sharp.

Don’t overlook the chance to tackle something you aren't entirely familiar with. In addition to learning new technologies, your soft skills grow exponentially. One of the most underrated soft skills is something that volunteering can uniquely strengthen: empathy.

While I tend to think of volunteering and nonprofit work as serious business, the fact of the matter is that people do it because of the emotional appeal. And, by appealing to their own emotions, volunteers are able to open up and learn about life in a way that may have been previously limited.

For example, if you are down on yourself because you cannot quite land the job you want, volunteering at a homeless shelter might help you put your work life in perspective. A job isn't everything. And you don't need to only volunteer your technology acumen to benefit (including professionally) from volunteer service.

No matter how you approach volunteer work, or where you end up from doing so, it will improve your well being and bolster your hard and soft skills to boot. Have fun, and get out there and help someone.

About the Author
Nathan Kimpel

Nathan Kimpel is a seasoned information technology and operations executive with a diverse background in all areas of company functionality, and a keen focus on all aspects of IT operations and security. Over his 20 years in the industry, he has held every job in IT and currently serves as a Project Manager in the St. Louis (Missouri) area, overseeing 50-plus projects. He has years of success driving multi-million dollar improvements in technology, products and teams. His wide range of skills includes finance, as well as ERP and CRM systems. Certifications include PMP, CISSP, CEH, ITIL and Microsoft.

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