How to Boost Your Job Skills Through Volunteering

A student in scrubs poses next to a spotted dog in the leafy UC Davis Arboretum.
Ashley Abigana sits with a dog in the Arboretum at UC Davis. Abigana wants to be a veterinarian and volunteers with the Vet Clinic. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

Volunteers give their time for so many reasons. In college, some of us volunteer because it can help us gain career experience. Others do it because it can make our application stand out when applying to grad schools. Many of us do it because it makes us feel good. 

For Aarya Gupta, fourth year communication and global disease biology major, all of these reasons led her to join and remain a member of Camp Kesem at UC Davis for four years. “It was the community and also Kesem’s mission that made me want to join.” She adds, “I was also interested in medicine and communication and I felt like this was the perfect intersection between health and interpersonal skills. I felt like this organization was something that aligned with my interests and my majors.” Even if you have yet to find your reasons to volunteer, read on to learn how volunteering can boost your skills and your sense of meaning.

Volunteering is networking in disguise

A volunteer and two children set up a colorful dome in a green field at UC Davis.
Whole Earth Festival volunteers set up an art dome to display pieces created by the community at UC Davis. (Dawson Diaz/UC Davis)

Volunteering brings together a community of people who have the same purpose. Often, this purpose is to help better the organization or people you're serving. To serve the greater good, you may need to connect with strangers. This may sound scary as meeting new people can be overwhelming. But once you create those connections, they can lead you to many possible opportunities.

Networking requires many of the same social skills as volunteering. In fact, my first college volunteering experience started off with networking. I emailed the Athletics Department out of the blue to see if I could help out with their social media presence. Though I was nervous to be running an Instagram account on my own, I put in my all. The work that I put into that volunteer position (and a recommendation) led me to the paid internship I’ve been at for almost three years.

Volunteering can boost your career

Volunteers load boxes into the back of a car in a parking lot.
Volunteers for the Yolo Food Bank pick up boxes of food to deliver to Davis residents during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

At UC Davis, students often volunteer for clubs or organizations that focus on their career. I was one of those people as a former Director for Marketing and Design with Davis Women in Business. For the first time in my life, people were looking to me to make executive decisions. As director, I learned how to manage and delegate assignments, bring recruitment campaigns to life on social media and even how to appropriately have some tough conversations. The skills gained through volunteering can make you stand out in the workforce.

Volunteer hours are also crucial to help you stand out as a candidate for graduate school, as Shauntel Cox can tell you. Cox, a fourth-year animal science major, has completed about 1,500 hours of volunteer service. She started her volunteering journey after taking ANS 15: Introductory Horse Husbandry during her freshman year. Her professor referred her to Victory Rose, a thoroughbred breeding and foaling facility. That unpaid internship led to her current position as a paid student tech at the William R. Prichard Veterinary Medicine Teaching Hospital in the Large Animal Surgery Department. Cox reflects, “Looking back I realized that if I didn’t have those experiences, it wouldn’t have made me stand out. I’m really glad I did it and I gained a lot of confidence going into vet school.” Cox will be attending vet school this fall.

Other students volunteer to help narrow down their future career path. Gupta volunteers at the Shifa Community Clinic. Shifa is one of the seven student-run clinics affiliated with the UC Davis School of Medicine. She shares, “Recently, I was working patient intake. I was taking patient vitals, recording patient history, and interacting with the patients. Those are all skills I can translate if I decide to pursue a career in medicine or whatever healthcare communication-related job I pursue after graduation.”

Volunteering can foster the skill of empathy

A student poses for a selfie with two horses in a barn.
Animal science senior Shauntel Cox volunteers at Victory Rose, a thoroughbred breeding and foaling facility. (Photo courtesy of Shauntel Cox)

“There’s an element of privilege to be able to take part in service,” said Marcie Kirk Holland, Director of the Internship and Career Center (ICC). Kirk Holland stresses the importance of recognizing privilege and combating disparities. She shares, “It also feels good when you’re the recipient of service or the recipient of people doing good things for you.” Thinking of volunteering through the receiver's lens can make you more aware of your impact as a volunteer.

I took on this perspective after I started volunteering for Alzheimer’s Buddies. For an hour a week, we would visit assistive-care homes. We would meet with our "buddy" and talk, color, read or do whatever our buddy wanted us to.  At first, I was very nervous to be talking to strangers who could have no interest in talking to me. As I became more educated about the disease, I became more aware of their perspective. Even though I’m no longer in the club, I made a friend at the home who I continue to visit every week. 

Empathy can guide you, whether you’re helping people or an organization. After joining Camp Kesem her freshman year, Gupta served as a Gala Coordinator for two years. She was a key figure in raising a record-breaking $100,000 to send children who have one or multiple parents with cancer to a free two-week summer camp. She shares, “I think the biggest skill I gained was empathy. After hearing our campers’ experiences and what they’ve gone through throughout their entire lives dealing with their parents’ cancer, you really learn how to become an empathizer: someone who is really able to try to understand their stories and understand their life experiences.”

Find a sense of purpose by helping others

Volunteers smile and pose in a kitchen at UC Davis.
Challah for Hunger volunteers work on making different types of challah at Hillel House at UC Davis. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

Let’s face it. College can be hard. Finding things that bring you happiness can ground you in the midst of all the chaos. Before coming to UC Davis, Kirk Holland received her masters in counseling with an emphasis in career service from Sacramento State University. She reflects, “One of the things that I remember distinctly is that a really effective treatment for depression is service. Helping other people can make you feel good about yourself and help you see that you’re not alone and that you’re still of value.”

Volunteer service can provide a consistent outlet for stress as long as you make it part of your routine. Seeing my buddy weekly is part of my busy college schedule. I tell him about the drama in my life, read him all the blogs I write and talk about things that fascinate us.

Volunteering is a privilege. Through helping others, you’ll realize that you can also be the recipient of that privilege. Whether you’re gaining hours, skills or friendship, volunteering has a lot to offer. Find your reasons and put in the effort. You’ll get back what you put into it.

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