If you think doing volunteer work for a professional organization is just "filler to pad the resume" while you are looking for a "real job" think again. A volunteer role in your professional circle can make or break you. If you serve on a committee, your actions will be observed by the committee leader or association board. Volunteer work is kind of like an extended behavioral interview. Volunteer experiences can be a great way to shine, build credibility in professional circles, and get your name out there...if you have the right attitude. The bottom line is people talk and people are more likely to refer someone based on past successes, so your volunteer resume should be just as outstanding as your professional one. Here are some examples of "volunteers gone bad"...I've seen them all and I know that people who demonstrate these behaviors don't end up on the "short list" when members of these organizations are looking for people to fill paid positions.
Complaining about the workload. Yes, we know they don't pay you to do this...that's why it's called volunteering. Go in with the attitude that short term you will give more than you receive but you are volunteering to give back to your community and build long-term trusting relationships.
Going AWOL. Sometimes volunteers make commitments to projects with the best of intentions and then "stuff happens" and they fall off the face of the earth. This puts an extra burden on teammates and causes resentment. And if that's not enough, it damages your professional reputation. It is unlikely that you will be trusted with a paid role if you can't deliver on a volunteer project. If you volunteer for a project, stick with it to the end even if it means doing some juggling.
Needing your hand held. Volunteer appointments are a great way to showcase your leadership, organization, and communication skills. If you can help take some of the burden off the team leader, your efforts will be noticed. If the decision that needs to be made falls within the responsibilities of your role, make it and keep the team leader informed. Don't send 200 emails a day asking for guidance, permission, etc. Doing so makes you appear indecisive and unsure of yourself. Not great qualities to display in front of people that may be in a position to refer you somewhere down the line.
Making decisions that are not within your authority. It is equally damaging to make decisions that are not within your role of responsibilities that could potentially damage or muddy the relationship you have with the team leader. There's a fine line between being supportive and being power hungry, so make sure you don't cross it.
Posted by Barbara Safani