How Volunteering Has Changed My Life By Leilani Gushiken

I left my job almost 6 months ago.  I didn’t know what I would do next, only that I was completely burned out and in need of a career change.  Problem was that I wasn’t exactly sure what kind of job or career path would be right for me.  Over the past few years I had been volunteering my weekends at various organizations, so when I found myself with a surplus of free time I realized donating time could prove to be more then just an opportunity to feel good about helping others, it could be the answer to my career quandary.

First off, I signed up to FoodForward.org to do a few citrus picks.  While swinging through the trees, collecting oranges and grapefruits, I was able to “interview” my fellow pickers.  There were lawyers, property managers, e-commerce entrepreneurs, and event planners, all careers that I was moderately interested in but had not known anyone to ask the simple questions that I was curious about, such as,  “How did you get your job?  What is a day in your life like?  What kind of education do you need?  Do you like what you do?”  Sure the answers for all of those questions can be found on the web, but it’s so much more personal to get answers from real-life professionals.

The next round of volunteer work was for Coastal Cleanup Day, where I spent a day at the beach picking up trash.  It was completely disgusting, but again worthwhile.  One of the women working along side me, was an HR representative for a major corporation.  Over the course of the day, I explained my quest to find a new career, we exchanged emails and a few weeks later I was brought in for a general interview.   Who would have thought that a day of picking trash would lead to getting my foot in the door for a possible future job?

Lastly, I had been considering trying to get work as an event planner, but had very few connections or knowledge of how to get a break.  So, I volunteered to produce the award show for an independent videogame festival (for free!) in exchange for a resume point.  The event was a lot of work, but turned out to be a huge success.  And all the late nights, time and energy that I put into the show ended up paying off when the CEO of the festival offered me future events (for money!) and recommended me to her friends for their events.

So let’s review.  Volunteer work equals: 1) Opportunities for networking.  2) The chance to meet people in other career fields.  3) Resume-building points.  4) Job opportunities.  5) Most importantly: The amazing feeling you get when you know you’ve helped someone else.

Leilani Gushiken is an events planner, writer, world traveler and frequent volunteer.  You can reach her at http://www.linkedin.com/in/leilanigushiken