Work and Volunteering

The Long Arm of the Job?
Irene Amodei
12 June 2007

What can volunteering offer people who are looking for paid employment? Why do people who are looking for a job consider volunteer work? How can agencies work with volunteers as a way of enhancing their chances of finding paid employment? What can volunteering offer people who are looking for paid employment? Why do people who are looking for a job consider volunteer work? How can agencies work with volunteers as a way of enhancing their chances of finding paid employment?

Many people believe that "real" or "pure" volunteer work is done without any expectation or hope of financial return or benefit, and that the sole motive behind "real" volunteer work is altruism, "the unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of others".

Nevertheless more and more people also agree that volunteers act for other reasons, that volunteer activity undertaken for motives other than altruism can be fruitful and meaningful, and finally that all volunteer effort involves some kind of exchange, even that which is based on altruism.

Some people volunteer because they understand that it is important for citizens to participate in the life of their communities, others as a way to integrate into a new community, meet people and create new relationships.

However, an increasingly number of people are turning to volunteer work as part of their search for paid employment.

A real job

What does volunteering have to do with employment at all? And in the same vein, what has volunteering to do with work? A miscomprehension underlines these questions. Anyone who is a volunteer or works with volunteers knows that volunteer activity is real work and that volunteers "exert their strength and their faculties to accomplish something, to perform something, or to produce something". People sometimes find it difficult to call this activity "work" because the word work has become synonymous with paid employment. But volunteer activity for the most part is, and should be, real "work".

How to gain confidence offering skills

Looking for a job today can be a brutal experience that crushes self-esteem and erodes self-confidence. One of the greatest rewards that volunteering can offer people seeking employment (either as a first time job seeker or those re-entering the workforce after a period of absence) is the opportunity to build or rebuild confidence and help to restore their belief in themselves.

Putting their knowledge, talents and experience to work for an organization offers people an opportunity to exercise those capabilities, to feel that they are valuable and valued and to test and perhaps enlarge their skills in new ways. As a result, confidence in their own expertise can grow. This confidence can not only enrich their job search in obvious ways but it may also encourage and enable them to explore alternative career paths. Having responsibility for a job, with goals, objectives and deadlines can help them re-establish routines and self-discipline, regaining a sense of power, control and choice over their lives. Many people, finally, find paid employment because of connections they have made in the course of their volunteer work.

Volunteering also has much to offer those who take early retirement, whether through choice or have it imposed upon them. Some may not need a salary but would still like to continue working for a period. These individuals can provide a wealth of experience and may act as mentors for others in the organization.

A growing recognition

25% of Swiss people over-15 did volunteer work during 2006. According to Volunteer Forum ( this corresponds to 750 million hours of work per year.

Both the public and private sectors now recognize that volunteer work should be taken into account during the evaluation of a job candidate's skill, training and experience. Increasingly often, employment application forms ask explicitly about volunteer experience and volunteer work can often be a determining factor in college and university applications and in job competition.

Consequently, the growing number of people seeking volunteer work as a way to enhance their chances of finding paid employment can be seen as a real "gold mine". The sector is receiving unprecedented offers of assistance from people with outstanding skills and talents.

The volunteer placement: a crucial responsibility

Such a virtuous and "win-win" circle between volunteer expectations and organizations needs is not coincidental. The volunteer placement has to be rigorous and demanding, well thought out and meticulously designed.

The volunteer job description must be clear; volunteers must be given the training needed and should receive appropriate supervision and support from a trained volunteer manager, including regular feedback and evaluation.

The work of ICVolunteers is therefore unique, rare and ... hard

On one hand ICVolunteers must meet the needs of its beneficiaries. Projects, policies and placements are designed to meet these goals, offering professional services and assuring the highest quality standards. Within this framework, volunteers are recruited, trained and engaged, depending on their skills and experience, with the emphasis on their interests, expectations and available time. Volunteer work offers huge advantages - we do believe this - but we must also recognize that volunteer work presents some limitations: generally it is flexible, relatively short-term and focused on specific goals or tasks.

Some have termed our role "facilitator": in practical terms, this means that we must be vigilant in ensuring that our efforts are oriented to meet both beneficiaries' and volunteers' needs.

Put the right person in the right position at the right time. That's all.

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