• Ricia Marano

Gaining Work Experience Through Volunteering

It can be hard to get a job as a teenager, especially if you’re under the age of 16. You’re restricted by labor laws, employer’s perceptions of teenaged workers, and lack of any work experience. There are programs to help teens get work experience (like our own Summer Youth Program) but not everyone will qualify. You’re feeling stuck, and maybe a bit bored. You really should consider volunteering. Granted, it doesn’t pay anything, but really, that’s the only downside. What you can get out of it can be so much more. Here’s some benefits of volunteering:

· You can test out your future career. If you’re interested in becoming a vet, working at a shelter will get you some hands on experience. Outdoorsy activities more your calling, check with your local nature center. Health care: check with your local hospital or nursing home. Getting exposure to your future career will help you decide if it’s really for you, before you spend thousands on a college education.

· Not sure of a future career? Consider volunteering as career exploration. You can expose yourself to different fields to see if you like something.

· You learn transferrable skills. Transferrable skills are skills that are not job specific, ones that any job you do will come in handy. Some of those skills are teamwork, communications, time management, and dependability. All of these you can learn volunteering so think of it as free education towards future employment.

· You get work experience, and yes, it is work experience even if you don’t get paid for it. And that experience will make it easier to get a paying job. Believe me, if an employer sees you’re willing to work without getting paid, they know you’ll be willing to work when you are. It’ll also show that you are willing to go above and beyond since no one is required to volunteer.

· You can develop some references. Most places of employment want references, someone who can speak to your character and work ethic. Many teens can only put down family and friends, or if they’re lucky a teacher. Think of how better it will look to an employer if you have a reference from a volunteer site supervisor.

· Volunteering looks good on a college and scholarship applications. Colleges tend to look for well-rounded candidates, and many organizations offer scholarship funding to students who demonstrate community involvement.


Okay, so you’re convinced that volunteering is worth your while. Keep in mind that just because you’re “working for free” doesn’t mean there isn’t some protocol for behavior. Take into account the following:

· Treat your volunteer position as you would a “real job”. Show up, show up on time, be prepare to get dirty (Not all volunteer work is pleasant. You might be cleaning cages, digging dirt, or other activities), be willing to work and work well, and when you complete a task, ask for something else to do. All of this will make your supervisor happy (and get you that great reference).

· Take advantage of learning opportunities. Talk to supervisors or long time volunteers. Be curious, observe, and willing to take on more duties. You never know what you might learn that will help you at another job. Do this especially if you’re considering a career path in that field. Many people like to talk about what they do and will enjoy your enthusiasm. Keep track of what you learn to use on a resume.

· You will get out of it what you put in. This is true for most things in life. You can go into your volunteer shift watching the clock and be a zombie through it. Or you can bring all your energy and positivity to the time. Which one will be the better experience?

· Be open. Be open to working with others. Be open to new tasks or experiences. Be open to taking on more responsibility. Be open to new people. Be open to new opportunities. You get the idea.


Volunteering can be your first steps to getting your first job. It can help you set yourself up for skills you will use continuously in the future. It can also be a pure joy to be a part of helping an organization achieve their goals whether be helping people, animals, the environment, or the community at large.


Have you had a volunteer experience? Tell us about it in the comments!

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