Much has been written lately about the benefits of volunteering, and how it can help job seekers make valuable connections in their job search. I’d like to add a point to that discussion, which is that even volunteering for an organization that seems, at first glance, to be entirely unrelated to one’s field, one that you would join “just for fun”, can be a valuable experience. Besides the networking you might do, new job-related skills often come from unexpected places.
I have volunteered for a mountain rescue team for the past seven years. When I first joined, I did it because I thought it would improve my backcountry skills and I would get a lot of free training that would help me get better at the sports I do, as well as be safer at them. All this has come to pass, but it’s the least of the benefits I now talk to other potential recruits about.
First, you’d be surprised who volunteers for a mountain rescue team. Yes, we have some young ski bums, ski patrollers, fire fighters, paramedics and kids taking a year off after college before they “get serious” and look for a job. But we also have two commercial pilots, a retired Shell Oil executive, a retired Navy captain, an IT manager, a real estate broker, a retired rocket scientist from the Navy (he tested ship defense systems), a civil engineer, and I could go on and on. That’s a lot of connections in a lot of different industries and professions you could make.
Second, as a trainer and consultant in the field of leadership development and teambuilding, I’ve learned perhaps more from my mountain rescue team than I’ve ever learned in corporate situations from my past. The need for teamwork and leadership on a mountain rescue team is crystal clear compared to other organizations. Everyone knows exactly what the goal is and what kind of teamwork and leadership will make or break us. Benefits and consequences are immediately obvious. Either we find and save the guy or we don’t. Everyone knows they can’t do it alone and we must communicate well, have complementary skill sets and work together to make it happen. Someone must lead us and be proficient at all the basics of management and leadership; they must inform, equip, direct and control us, but they must also inspire us, because we’re not getting paid. If we’re not inspired, we don’t show up.
You might think I’m making a plug for you to look up your local mountain rescue team and volunteer for them. But actually, if your local mountain rescue team is anything like ours, they don’t need people. We just created a new training program to try and screen more people out, because we’ve got more interest than we can handle. Another indication, perhaps, of how valuable the experience can be to your career and how it might help you in your job search.