Dear Coach Joan: Career Advice
I’m just starting my professional career and was advised to get involved with volunteer work. I’m wondering if volunteer activities can be a boost to my career in any way?
I am quite ambitious and want to use my free time wisely. Yes, I’d like to do community service work, but might it be smart to wait until later in my career?
Has volunteer work really helped people with their careers?
And congratulations on landing your first professional job. Glad to hear that you are ambitious, and the topic of volunteering as a career asset is a super one!
The answer is YES, YES, YES!! Volunteer work can be a career boost in many ways. Here are four possible benefits of volunteer work:
- Volunteer work grows your network! By participating in community related volunteer work you will meet with people you probably never would meet under other circumstances. You will become acquainted with people from many different backgrounds, ages, careers and interests. And you’ll all have the same volunteer work in common; a shared mission. You will get to know these fellow volunteers in different capacities than in their normal work lives. This could increase both your social and professional network, make your life more interesting, and be a good support and opportunity network for if or when career changes occur. During the economic downturn of 2008 I worked with many people who were laid off from work. It was terrifying for many and fear could be paralyzing. I always recommended they get going; even if they didn’t have a structured job to go to they could create structure on their own. I always advised to do some volunteer work to stay busy, productive and to expand their career network. I know of at least a dozen new job opportunities that opened up due to volunteer work connections.
- Volunteer work can grow your industry-specific and leadership skills. Volunteer work can include playing a role in a professional association in your field. For instance, I recommended that client who is a high tech recruiter join the Silicon Valley High Tech Recruiters Association. She wisely opted to play a visible, leadership role in the organization and within a few months, several new job leads came her way. By doing volunteer work in your profession you are also seen as a doer, a contributor, and a professional who is interested in lifelong learning, advancing your profession, and helping others in the field. Many companies believe in activating their employees and they team up with local service organizations. By volunteering with your fellow employees you can network internally and that can lead to advancement opportunities, too. Some employers even give employees time off to to the volunteer work.
- Volunteer work can give you a new outlook and more energy! Everyone has ups and downs at work. By having volunteer responsibilities, and another place to focus your energies, you can balance out the demands of work and even pressures that you might have in your personal life. It feels good to volunteer and to be of service. If you go through a period where you are not feeling valued, respected or motivated in your day job, your volunteer work just might give you the energy and enthusiasm you need to boost your mood and your sense of value!
- Volunteer work can increase your sense of personal impact! Many people are concerned about aspects of our world outside of work. There are political issues, environmental, educational, arts related, social issues, and more. We can increase our sense of purposefulness and impact by doing community service volunteer work. Think about topics and issues in our world that matter to you, research to find a local group, join, and become an active part of creating solutions in our world.
Ben, I strongly recommend you consider getting involved with volunteer work and weave it into a regular and key part of your life. Get involved! Add new dimensions of impact to your life. The benefits will be many, from a broader professional network, to a more robust social life and to the good feeling that comes from knowing you are making an effort to improve our world.
Go for it, Ben!
Please send your career related questions to me at:
Dear Coach Joan,
The fire might have happened a full year ago, but it continues to impact my life and my work. Our family home burned down, we lost everything, and we’re still dealing with the insurance company and builders, not sure we can even afford to rebuild. Living in temporary housing is another stress in my life.
The problem is that I am not as productive or focused at work as I would like to be. Timing is bad as my supervisor is leaving to retire in a few months. For the past five years I’ve assumed I’d be promoted to his position when he left, but now I’m not so sure. I’m afraid to talk to my manager or HR as they act like the fire was a long time ago, and I’m afraid they would see me as weak and not worthy of the promotion if I tell them I feel distracted and stressed out.
Very concerned and hoping you have some helpful ideas.
I am so sorry for your losses, and I want to assure you that you are not the only one in our community who continues to experience the fallout from the fire. As you know, I am a coach, not a psychologist, but I’ve read that it can take years for some people to fully rebound from a trauma. And in your case, you continue to live in uncertainty, which is very stressful.
I highly recommend that you get outside psychological support. You have strong self awareness, and if you sense that your productivity and focus are impaired, you have a right to be concerned. You do not want to miss out on a strategic career opportunity!
Michelle, please refer to my earlier blog post for information on this topic here.
The good news is that there are professionals who can help you, and you can keep it private from your employer. In fact, in our community we have places like the Jewish Free Clinic that provide services for fire victims just like you! (And as their name suggests, the services can be FREE!) You can also go through your own physician to get a referral, but I would like all readers to know that there are free services available in our community for fire victims.
You might be experiencing anxiety or depression that is sapping your energy and distracting you from your normal focus and performance at work. You might need therapy, medication, stress relief activities, or other things.
You also might find that a professional psychologist can suggest a way for you to work with your employer to give you the time and understanding you need for recovery.
Michelle, you have been a professional for many years and now, through no fault of your own, you are impacted by a mental health problem. It is a valid and real problem, and it can be addressed. Hopefully, you will get the support you need to get your work performance back on track.
Onward in your healing, and hoping to hear that you earn your promotion.
Coach Joan Tabb
Please send your career questions to me at: