How Volunteering Can Help You Land Jobs and New Skills

Three members say donating their time has benefited their careers

23 November 2017

Want to pick up new skills, work with people from diverse backgrounds, and learn about the latest technologies? Then sign up as an IEEE volunteer. That’s what three members told The Institute when interviewed about how volunteering has helped them in their career.

Hossam Ali is a project manager for Vodafone, in Cairo. Liana Nicklaus is a design engineer at Arm, a semiconductor and software design company in Austin, Texas. And Bibin Parukoor Thomas is a user interface designer and brand consultant for software services company InApp, headquartered in Palo Alto, Calif.

Volunteering also can help you land a job, according to what 2,500 people who influence hiring decisions reported in the Deloitte 2016 Volunteerism Survey. More than 80 percent of the respondents said they were more likely to choose job candidates listing volunteer experience on their résumé. Even if a candidate’s résumé had flaws, 85 percent of the respondents said they were willing to overlook them if volunteer work was listed.

Why? Perhaps because the great majority of the influencers—more than 80 percent—say volunteering makes for more well-rounded individuals.

Volunteering, they believe can improve communication skills, develop strong character traits, and demonstrate accountability and commitment.

Although all types of volunteerism were viewed as beneficial, respondents leaned toward positions that build leadership skills. In particular, they valued being a good communicator and being able to juggle priorities. Volunteers also show a willingness to get deeply involved in projects.

Ali—chair of this year’s IEEE Day activities, celebrated on 3 October—is a member of the IEEE Technology and Engineering Management Society’s Young Professionals committee. Nicklaus has been a member for three years of the IEEE Educational Activities Student Educational Resources committee. And Parukoor Thomas has been the social media chair since 2014 for the IEEE Sections Congress committee, the public relations officer for the IEEE Kerala (India) Section and, since 2015, the vice chair of the section’s Young Professionals affinity group.

EARLY START

All three began volunteering as university students. Ali was the chair of the IEEE student branch at Cairo University in 2010. He was responsible for organizing IEEE workshops and seminars at the school. That’s how he burnished his communication skills, along with learning how to lead teams and brainstorm ideas.

“When you organize an event, communication is everything because you have to contact everyone involved—from the university’s administration to media outlets to the speakers,” he says. “And with attendees coming from all over the world, I became more knowledgeable about other cultures.”

Nicklaus served as 2013–2014 president of the IEEE–Eta Kappa Nu Alpha Chapter at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. The chapter conducted outreach programs with the Boy Scouts and other youth groups to teach them about engineering. The chapter also held career-development activities for the university’s students. The sessions taught them interviewing skills, for example, and connected them with industry representatives. Along the way, Nicklaus says, she picked up public-speaking and presentation skills, and she learned how to balance a budget, manage people, and run meetings.

“There aren’t many paid positions for college students that give you such opportunities,” she says. “Without volunteering, I don’t know how I would have gotten these skills. Even the best internship programs don’t offer leadership positions.”

Nicklaus adds that it was helpful to pick up her soft skills “in the sandbox, when the consequences of messing up aren’t so high. Your product won’t fail, you won’t embarrass yourself in front of your boss, and you won’t hurt your career-advancement opportunities.”

Parukoor Thomas was chair of the IEEE student branch at the Thangal Kunju Musaliar Institute of Technology, in Kerala, India. He credits the position with offering him networking opportunities and the ability to work with teams from around the globe. He learned what he calls professional etiquette and got to work with diverse groups of people, improving his leadership skills.

“I’m not sure if any other organization would give me the kind of exposure I had and the contacts I made as a volunteer,” he says.

EMPLOYERS BENEFIT

Ali and Parukoor Thomas say they have little doubt that listing IEEE volunteer activities on their résumé helped their career.

Job recruiters for high-tech industries in Egypt are familiar with IEEE because so many of the country’s engineers belong to the organization, Ali points out. He adds that as a volunteer he has the opportunity to attend seminars on the latest technologies. And he gets to mingle with leaders in the field.

“You won’t find so many leaders in one place at any other organization,” he says.

Even just belonging offers benefits, he adds. “It’s an advantage for anyone applying for a job to say he is a member of IEEE.”

Parukoor Thomas says he landed his present job based just on his IEEE references. “I wasn’t even interviewed for my job,” he says. “That’s the power of IEEE.” Without volunteering he would not have had those references.

He certainly recommends becoming an IEEE volunteer. He notes how his experience dealing with people from different backgrounds as IEEE Day chair is now of great benefit to him in his job at Vodofone.

“I’m managing a remote team with employees from Greece, Portugal, and the United Kingdom, and the global exposure I experienced with IEEE is invaluable,” he says.

The entrepreneurial outlook Nicklaus acquired while volunteering will help her advance at her company, she says. “As a volunteer, nothing happens if you don’t do it yourself,” she adds. “If you see a problem at work, you need to take the initiative to solve it yourself and not wait for others. That’s a really good skill to have.”

Learn more about volunteering for IEEE by visiting the Volunteer Resources Web page.

IEEE membership offers a wide range of benefits and opportunities for those who share a common interest in technology. If you are not already a member, consider joining IEEE and becoming part of a worldwide network of more than 400,000 students and professionals.

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