All too often people don’t take volunteer experiences seriously enough. A volunteer experience can teach you a lot, you can be asked to do any number of tasks and this can prepare you for the future in ways you might not imagine.
Before you begin, though, it’s important to have a plan and some guidelines so that you can make the most of your time at an organization.
Take the Time to Set Goals
This is arguably the most essential part of a good volunteer experience and yet it is overlooked more often than not.
It’s very important for you to determine what you want to get out of your experience and what you think the organization will need while you are there. This must be done before you begin so that it helps you to focus.
First, think about how this experience can fit into your overall career goals. What skills do you need to develop? What aspects of a given industry have you not yet tried? Once you have set personal goals, think about how you can contribute the skills you already have to meet the needs of the organization.
It is important to assess your skills before you start your volunteer experience so you can spot places where you can make the most impact once you arrive.
Work Closely with Your Supervisor
On the first day of your volunteer position, take the time to talk to your supervisor about what their expectations are. You are in a good place because you’ve already thought about what you are looking to achieve and what skills you bring to the table so this is a good chance to make sure you convey that to your supervisor.
Feel free to share your thoughts and make sure you take the time to listen to what they need. Once you learn what they want, you can do your best to surpass their expectations.
Address Issues Early and Head On
Let me first say that in any position – paid or volunteer – you will have to do things that you don’t want to do. This is part of the job and can be a learning experience if you approach it with the right attitude.
That being said, however, you may come across situations that need to be addressed. You may feel that you are being treated unfairly or you may simply want to inquire about expanding your responsibilities.
Whatever the case, don’t be afraid to raise your issues in a professional manner. These things are usually best left for an in-person conversation so don’t send an email. Instead, gather your thoughts and ask your supervisor to discuss them at a convenient time. Remember that they may not agree with you, but you can bring it up so that it can be dealt with.
At any volunteer experience, you will meet lots of people. You will meet the other people in the organization and others that interface with the organization on a daily basis. These relationships are extremely important so don’t take them for granted.
Remember – a volunteer experience is a learning experience so take some time to get to know everyone that you meet. Ask questions about what they do and how they got to where they are today. Also, don’t forget to ask them for contact information so that you can stay in contact.
When your volunteer experience is over, take some time to thank each one of them specifically for the things that they taught you and the relationships you’ve forged. Then, keep in touch long after you leave.
Just as important as setting goals, reflection is essential to the volunteer process. When your time with an organization is over, it’s important for you to think back to the goals you set in the beginning and see how you did.
Did the experience meet your expectations? If it didn’t, that’s okay too. Take some time to think about what else you have learned. What are some skills you gained that you didn’t have at the beginning? What did you learn about yourself?
Taking stock at this stage will help you as you move forward to more volunteer or paid positions. Your job search will be aided by your self awareness – how well you can talk about your strengths and weaknesses – so it’s important not to forget this step.
If you follow these simple steps you are sure to have a great experience that will launch you into the next step in your career. You’ll make lasting networking connections, learn about the industry, find out if your interests really suit you and most of all – have a great time. And that’s what it’s all about!