Volunteering abroad is great for polishing up your CV. "Soft" skills are more important than ever now, with some employers rating them as more important than your academic qualifications.
Taking a few weeks or months out to volunteer abroad can help you develop these all-important qualities.
Here are 10 skills you will get when you volunteer abroad.
Most of us work in some kind of team in our normal jobs, but teamwork is a skill that can always be improved.
When you volunteer abroad, you’ll have to work with people you’ve only just met – and you’ll have to get on with the job in hand straight away. Your team may also change throughout your placement which will further develop your team-building abilities.
Volunteering abroad to build your teamwork skills is a really interesting one, because your team is made up of people from different backgrounds, with different reasons for being there, but all with the same goal. This can be different from teamwork in a day job, because people's motivations can vary a lot more.
2. Communication skills
Volunteers come from all walks of life – and from all over the world.
You will also normally be working alongside local staff, including your supervisor, in the country where you’re volunteering. This means there’ll be a whole new culture to get used to. Depending on your placement, you may also be working with local children or adults. You may be encouraged, or even required, to learn the local language.
In short, you’ll have to brush up on your communication skills pretty quick in order to get along!
This depends on your placement, but for career breakers (gappers aged over 25), this can be a real opportunity to take charge.
As well as opportunities on the volunteer project to take the lead on a particular task, there are lots of placements which specifically require you to take a leadership role. This may be in teaching or training - either children or adults. Or you might sign up to lead a team of fellow volunteers - volunteer management roles are vital within the field of volunteering abroad.
Showing you can lead a team will help you up the career ladder, into training or management positions. It's especially useful if you feel stuck in your current job, and as if no-one will give you a chance to prove yourself.
Whether you’re using your professional skills, or you’ve decided on raw volunteering (more basic work), you will find yourself with new trials on a regular basis.
You might find the problems are specifically related to your volunteer project and they can encompass almost anything, from people management, to a lack of supplies, to working with the local community. Or you might find they are more personal. You could find the placement is not what you expect, you feel under-prepared, or you discover there's something difficult about your environment.
Facing these challenges head-on will give you the ability to solve problems quickly and creatively. You'll be showing potential employers that you're able to find solutions to a wide variety of problems and that you have the confidence to take on difficult tasks.
You may find on your placement that people do things very differently from that which you are used to.
You’ll develop the ability to negotiate with a variety of people and organisations. A lot of volunteer placements involve working with more than one organisation, so while your placement is managed by your volunteer agency, you could find you also have to work with NGOs, government departments and private organisations. If you work with children, you will also hone your negotiation skills!
Negotiation is a really valuable skill so developing this will make you attractive to potential employers.
If you don’t get up and put some work in, the people or the environment which relies on the project is going to suffer.
Volunteers consistently report a sense of achievement after their placement, not just from the work they’ve done, but in the knowledge they’ve made a long-lasting difference. Volunteer agencies also report a higher level of commitment from career breakers - saying they take the project seriously and really put the work in. It starts before you leave as well, taking the time to research responsible volunteering projects and those which are sustainable (such as the ones that are approved to appear on this site).
This is one of those skills that you don't need to necessarily be explicit about. Showing that you've worked hard, and been part of a worthwhile project, speaks volumes.
7. Research skills
Obviously if you’re on a research volunteering project, you’ll learn many practical aspects of research too (many scientific research projects around the world rely on volunteers). These skills include collecting, recording and analysing data as well as how to communicate and use that information.
But even if you’re doing another sort of volunteering, you will still be researching and analysing – finding out about your placement, learning what you need to do it effectively, and using that information to improve your experience (and possibly even the project itself). Even reading this blog post counts as research!
Being able to research effectively - not just finding information but applying it - is a skill that can be used in pretty much every job. And it looks good on your CV too!
8. Planning and organising
Any career break requires a great deal of planning – it’s not just about what you are going to do, but also about tying up the loose ends at home (renting out your house, finding someone to look after the cat, selling your car etc).
With volunteering though, you will also find yourself organising things throughout the placement, particularly if you work on a community development project, or are helping people learn business skills. You might be put in charge of a lot of administrative tasks, or people management, which will require a lot of organising. If you come in at the start of a project, you will be able to lead on how everything is planned and managed.
Developing your planning and organising skills will not only look good on your CV, but help you find another job - or even set up a new business - when you come back.
You are used to a western way of life - from your school, to your workplace, to social activities and public spaces.
When you volunteer abroad, you will find things very different. You might find yourself in a classroom with only a piece of chalk, for example, or in a place where the electricity goes off at unexpected times. There will be laws and customs which you find strange, and religious rites, festivals and traditions which are all new to you. You not only have to adapt to your new role as a volunteer, and a new country and culture, but you will also have to adapt to changing circumstances as you go through your placement.
Developing this flexibility means you are primed and ready to work in a rapidly-changing industry - and demonstrating your adaptability will convince employers to hire you.
This is really more of a personal trait than a soft skill, but it’s too important to be missed off this list.
Developing confidence is the most-reported benefit of a career break, and it’s largely because you are developing all the soft skills listed above. Developing all those skills means you are more confident in applying for jobs you want, whereas before, you might not have felt you were up to them.
Being confident helps you once you've landed that job - speaking up, getting involved, and being included on projects. And of course, confidence can help you in your personal life too.
Has that convinced you to do a volunteering placement? Click here to see what's on offer.