The Importance of Volunteer Work
It’s probably the last thing you want to think about. You’re utterly swamped trying to wrap up your undergraduate degree or you’re trying to convince your boss to be flexible as you pursue your MBA. How can you possibly squeeze in Community Service too?
While there are no easy answers, volunteering is nevertheless something you simply must find time to do. The overwhelming evidence points to a number of practical and touchy-feely reasons that volunteering is good for you and for your future.
Stand out from the crowd
MBA programs want to admit ethical people. “Work and education tend to be self-serving,” says Alex Brown, a consultant for Clear Admit and former Wharton admissions officer. “You go to school and you get a job because they’re good for you. But by doing community service, you’re demonstrating that you like to do things beyond what serves you, personally.”
MBA programs are often swamped by dozens of applications that all may look more or less the same. Having an impressive history of volunteer work, “can become a differentiator,” says Brown. “Some programs may get an abundance of applicants in, say, the tech group, so the fact that you’re involved in something different makes you stand out.”
Employers like volunteers
Volunteer work looks good, too, to prospective employers. Employers want well-rounded employees. People with rich after-work lives ultimately make better employees. Fulfillment outside of work translates to increased productivity at work.
People are more productive and creative when they have more positive emotions, according to Steven Kramer and Teresa Amabile – authors of The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work.
“In fact, we found that, if happier on a given day, people were not only more likely to come up with a new idea or solve a complex problem that same day but also to do so the next day,” they write.
If you’re at an early point in your career, community service enables you to develop leadership skills outside of work. Seeing a rich history of volunteer work may give an employer reason to hire you if your résumé is a bit thin on past job history. This may put you in a better position when you’re up for a promotion at work.
Employees with deep volunteering skills bring wisdom and experience not attainable in a boardroom. And people who work on projects with diverse teams of volunteers learn teamwork skills that easily translate to the workplace.
Now for the “touchy-feely” stuff
First, as you think about how you’d like to help your community, consider this: Do something that resonates with you personally. If you’re considering working with Habitat for Humanity, but can’t hit a nail with a frying pan, home-building is probably not a good match for you. You won’t enjoy the work, the overall experience will not be pleasant, and, most importantly, you’re not likely to stick with it.
Instead, choose something that’s important to you, something that you enjoy doing. If you love animals, volunteer at a shelter. Or better yet, think outside of the box. Hate that circuses use elephants in their shows? Organize a campaign around encouraging circuses to return elephants to a more natural living environment. Involvement in a “cause” is an important form of philanthropy that impresses college admissions officers as much as planting spring annuals at the local botanical garden.
Whatever it is, when you involve yourself in work that you feel passionately about, you’ll find yourself becoming even more passionate about it and you’ll also commit more hours to your cause. You’ll do it not only because you know it’s important work or because it looks good on your CV, but also because you enjoy it.
Nothing is quite as rewarding as the feeling you get when you help someone out. Tasks as simple as helping an elderly man get his groceries onto the checkout belt gives you a warm feeling of accomplishment.
Imagine the happy juju you’ll get from a weekly volunteer stint at a retirement home where you play a challenging chess game with an elderly person full of interesting stories to tell. Or perhaps you take homeless shelter dogs out for a daily stroll, giving them their only breath of fresh air for the day.
As selfish as we may seem at times, we truly feel our best when we’re giving to others. This isn’t just anecdotal. Researcher Michael Steger, a psychologist at the University of Louisville, conducted a study that revealed that the more people participated in meaningful activities, the happier they were and the more purposeful their lives felt.
Volunteering is a wonderful means of “giving back” as gratitude for the fortune you’ve received. Even if you had to scrimp to get there, you’re lucky enough to have to received particular opportunities: you’re in or have graduated from college. You most likely have a place to sleep at night and food to eat. And yet, it’s almost certain that there are folks with less to be thankful for. Give to them. Thank fate for your good luck by helping out someone who could use a little assistance. Who knows, your example might inspire them to help out someone even less fortunate.
And as Dr. Stegar discovered, all this love you’re giving will benefit you, too. You’ll be on your way to an MBA and great career opportunities in no time at all.
Some things can’t be learned in a classroom. Volunteering offers the opportunity to learn new skills and enjoy new experiences. Perhaps you’ve never run a cash register. Volunteer at a local thrift shop and learn a skill that might come in handy when you’re running your own business!
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