If you are a college student in undergraduate or graduate school, or a professional with an eye on switching companies or advancing your career, volunteering within your field of study can be valuable. You can build your resume with new skills, expand your professional knowledge, and meet potential colleagues and employers.

Whether your field is medicine, technology, engineering, teaching, journalism, finance or virtually any specialty, the benefits of volunteering are numerous. A 2011 LinkedIn survey of employers showed that 41% of respondents rated volunteer experience equally as important as paid experience. Another LinkedIn survey showed that one out of every five managers in the U.S. says he or she has hired a candidate because of his or her volunteer work experience.

Benefits
Meet potential employers
Even if you are not currently job hunting, it's always a good idea to keep networking to expand your opportunity for future work. Employers would prefer to hire someone who they know to be a dedicated hard worker with good interpersonal skills.

Build a network of references
Meeting a wide range of people through your volunteer work in your chosen field can help you when you begin looking for work or want to change from one office to another. Providing professional references from others in your field that you have worked with in a volunteer capacity can be just as valuable, or even more valuable in some cases, than a reference from your boss.

Develop leadership skills
Depending on where you are in your career, you may not have that many opportunities to develop your own project. When you are a volunteer, you can offer to spearhead a fundraiser, train other volunteers in a new software system, chair a committee or give a lecture. All these things are examples that you can use on your resume to demonstrate your capacity for leadership.

Use tools relevant to your field
If you are still a student or are a relatively new employee in your field, you may not have had the opportunity at work to use all of the tools used by others in your field. For instance, accountants use a variety of systems in their work. It could be valuable to become trained on a new system or expand your use of another type of tool.

Improve your self-confidence
Volunteer work can be a wonderful method of overcoming shyness and improving social skills because you have an inherent shared interest with the people around you. You'll naturally feel a sense of accomplishment simply because you are sacrificing your leisure time to work for free to help an organization or your community. Self-confidence in your social-emotional skills and in your knowledge of your field can be an important factor in encouraging future employers to hire you or promote you.

Disadvantages
While the benefits of volunteering in your field are clear, there are still a few reasons why you may want to limit your volunteer work or consider volunteering in another field. First, you need to make sure you have enough time and energy to volunteer in addition to your other commitments. If work pressures, academics and family time are already overwhelming your schedule, you may want to skip volunteer work until you have more leisure time.

Second, if you find your work or academics stressful, you may prefer to volunteer for something completely different. For example, if you are a computer programmer, you may be better off volunteering to coach a basketball team for a complete break from your usual work.

The Bottom Line
As with any decision related to volunteering, your decision about where and how to volunteer should be based on a clear understanding of your goals, your abilities and your schedule.

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