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How volunteering can benefit your career

Although many people consider volunteering overseas to be a “career break”, it’s actually a fantastic way of developing new skills and progressing your professional career. Taking time out of your own life to help others is a sure-fire way to impress prospective employers and challenge yourself too. Here are just some of the ways you can expect to grow professionally on an international volunteering placement…

Limerick paediatrician Dr Aisling Walsh collaborating with new colleagues on placement in Gulu, Uganda.

You become a better leader

In sustainable development organisations like VSO Ireland, roles typically involve mentoring others, either on the job or through learning seminars and workshops. Instead of simply performing a role for a set period of time, you share your skills with local colleagues so that they can continue the work when your placement ends. Teach a man to fish, and so on. Because of this, you develop advanced leadership and management skills, which can help you step into a more senior position once your placement ends. This is particularly beneficial for those at the earlier stages of their careers who do not have the opportunity to get this type of experience in Ireland, as noted by VSO volunteer Claire Nic Gabhann.

You learn to be more adaptable

Technological advancements and globalisation mean that the working world is changing rapidly. Organisations need employees who are open to new ideas and able to cope when things don’t go according to plan. Working in a resource-poor setting forces you to be flexible in a way that you don’t have to be at home. You need to constantly adapt, not only to a new culture, but also different ways of working. You will likely have limited resources at your disposal, forcing you to be creative in your thinking and do more with less. All of this will stand to you when you are going forward for jobs down the line.

You become a better communicator

When you work with people who speak a different native language, you need to listen more carefully and pay closer attention to non-verbal cues. You also need to be clearer in your own verbal and written communication, and double-check with colleagues to ensure nothing is lost in translation. This makes you a much better communicator and more aware of subtle differences between colleagues. These types of skills are becoming increasingly important in a rapidly diversifying Irish workplace.

You gain new insights

A recent Deloitte survey found that 92% of hiring managers believe volunteering expands an employee’s professional skill set. This is definitely true of international volunteering, as volunteers collaborate with colleagues from all over the world and programme country. It’s all about skills exchange, and VSO Ireland volunteers, like Stephanie Galvin, regularly comment that they gain just as much as they give. Gaining new insights and learning how to do things in a different way is of great benefit to Irish workplaces when those volunteers return.

You gain perspective

We’re all guilty of getting caught up with the stress of looming deadlines and an overbearing workload. While volunteering in a developing country, however, you come face-to-face with extreme poverty and learn to put things in perspective. You’re not immune to work stress when your placement ends but returned volunteers frequently comment on how they learned how they feel much better equipped to deal with this.

Volunteering overseas is a fantastic way of developing yourself, both personally and professionally, and is something that will definitely stand to you in your future career. If you’re thinking of taking a career break this year, we’d love to hear from you. Please get in touch to learn more about the volunteering opportunities available in countries like Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda.

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