Why is volunteering important (and how do I do it)?

If you’re busy hunting for a job to pay your bills, it might seem foolish to give your time to an unpaid volunteer role. Shouldn’t you spend every moment working on resumes and cover letters? In fact, becoming a volunteer can be an essential part of your employment strategy, especially if you are new to the Canadian job market. Here are 5 reasons why volunteering is important for job seekers

Why is volunteering important?

Some employers want applicants to have Canadian work experience – and volunteering is one way to get it.

It’s common for Canadians to list both paid and volunteer positions on their resumes. That’s because volunteering helps employers see you as a responsible and skilled individual with something useful to contribute.

In one LinkedIn study, 41% of employers surveyed said they consider volunteer work to be just as valuable as paid work when it comes to evaluating a candidate’s experience.

Volunteer work can help you fill gaps in your skill set.

If you want to work in a clothing store but don’t have retail experience, for example, consider volunteering at a charity thrift shop such as Women in Need Society. That way, you can gain customer service experience that you can add to your resume.

As a volunteer in just about any role, you’ll learn first-hand how people interact in Canadian society and gain opportunities to practice your English language skills.

When you’re job hunting, it’s helpful to build a network of people who know the good qualities you have. These people can act as references to confirm your character and talent to potential employers. They can also let you know if they hear about any jobs that match your skillset and interests.

Staff at the organizations you volunteer for, as well as fellow volunteers, can all become part of this support network. You might even make some good friends along the way!

Money can be tight when you’re looking for work so “extras” like entertainment may seem out of reach. But, if you volunteer for a cultural or arts organization, you may be able to experience some of their events for free.

For example, volunteers for the Calgary International Film Festival earn free tickets after serving a certain number of hours.

More than 4 in 10 Canadians are volunteers, says Statistics Canada. Without support from so many people, many not-for-profit groups would struggle to provide vital services.

A long job search where no one seems to recognize what you have to offer can feel discouraging. The opportunity to help others and be valued as a volunteer can boost your self-esteem, give you confidence, and provide valuable work experience as you continue your search for paid employment.

How do I volunteer?

Once you’ve decided to be a volunteer, how do you find the right role?

First, consider what interests or skills you have or want to have. Do you take amazing photographs? Love animals or the environment? Some organizations offer positions more suited for adults, while others, such as the Calgary Public Library, offer both youth and adult opportunities.

Next, consider how much time you can give. Are you able to give an hour a week or an hour a month? Some groups ask volunteers to commit a certain number of hours. Others will be happy with whatever you can provide.

Check the websites of non-profits and charities to learn about their needs. Alternatively, visit a website that lists opportunities for multiple organizations such as:

Tip: Some organizations require volunteers to undergo a police record check, particularly for roles that work directly with children, the elderly or other vulnerable people.

Volunteering is very important to the Calgary Immigrant Educational Society (CIES). Our volunteers’ contributions help us to provide even more comprehensive services to newcomers. This is done by recruiting volunteer ESL instructors or tutors for our classrooms, or by offering students of our Employment Skills Training program an optional one-month volunteer job practicum. If you are interested in volunteering with CIES, we recommend you check out our volunteer postings which are updated regularly, or contact us.

For more information, internationally trained professionals new to Canada can gain additional insights into volunteering at the Calgary Region Immigrant Employment Council’s Volunteerism 101 workshops.

CIES Guides are a volunteer-led project made possible through contributions from the community.

Thanks to Jessica Whiteside for help with this guide. If you want to suggest a correction to this guide, or want to submit one of your own, please contact us.