Volunteering is about more than making the cups of tea — it can be a valuable tool to boost your employability.

Volunteering is a bit of a Kiwi tradition, with hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders giving them time for free to help out local organisations, sports clubs and schools. But while you're doing good in the community, you might also be benefiting your career. Lending a hand can have several positive spin-offs in the paid work environment, from making your CV more well-rounded to strengthening your contacts, researching different fields and gaining skills and experience.

Brien Keegan, country manager for recruitment and HR services firm Randstad, says having volunteer experience on your CV is becoming increasingly important. Though it might not be the first thing recruiters and hiring manages look at, "it's kind of an extra string to your bow," he says.

"More employers and businesses are looking at this - that a candidate has interests outside the workplace. Also, if somebody is prepared to give up their Saturday to do volunteer work, for example, it suggests that they are going to go the extra mile for you too, if you need it." Keegan says being involved with a sports club, for example, might suggest a candidate has a competitive edge and is achievement-oriented, but also wants to give back and contribute.

Keegan speaks of a client in the construction industry who specifically wanted to see candidates who not only had the required skills and experience but also showed that they were passionate about doing things outside the workplace, "who weren't afraid to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty."


Volunteering can also be an opportunity to explore industries and sectors you want to learn more about to further your career, and make contacts. Scott Miller, chief executive of Volunteering New Zealand, says different types of volunteering can benefit different people.

"For students it might be an opportunity to learn about how an office or work environment operates. For people between jobs it might be a chance to augment their existing skills or gain additional skills, and for older people it's more of a chance to give back," Miller says. "Across the spectrum there are opportunities to leverage off volunteer opportunities into paid work."

His organisation "walks the talk" when it comes to engaging interns, using volunteers extensively for special projects. The American concept of unpaid internship is gaining traction here, for both graduates and those already in the workforce wanting to further their skills and experience, and perhaps to explore a new industry or interest.

Rather than having set roles in mind, he says he looks at the strengths and interests of the volunteer.

"It's a matter of finding out what their passion is and trying to make the volunteer role fit around them - more what they want to get out of it them what I want to get from them," Miller says.

For example, he was recently approached by a Chinese man who wanted to explore volunteering practices in his own ethnic community, so Miller is developing a role for him which will both meet his needs and benefit the Volunteering organisation.

"Organisations tend to think 'I need one of these or two of those', but they tend to overlook the unintended synergies that come about when people volunteer because of their passion," Miller says.

As well as gaining transferable skills, volunteering can also be a way to make valuable contacts. Wellington graduate Richard Robinson benefited from volunteering his professional services at the head office of Volunteering New Zealand.

Wanting to get into the field of policy writing, he was suffering from a catch-22 situation. "I was looking to volunteer to get experience, without having to go through the process of getting a job, for which I needed experience," he says.

Robinson used the skills gained through his law degree to work on Volunteering New Zealand's submission to the New Zealand Fire Service Commission, in its review on the service, which is itself heavily reliant on volunteers. Through his role researching volunteer experience and helping to write and present the submission, Robinson gained important experience and dealt with various Members of Parliament.

He has since landed an analyst's role at Land Information New Zealand, and is "95 per cent sure" the reason he got the job was through his experience at Volunteering New Zealand and the reference he gained from Miller.

"It was excellent experience - I wasn't being paid but the work I was doing was exactly the kind of work I wanted to be paid for," Robinson says.