There’s no foolproof formula for landing the perfect job, but more often than not, it seems as though students and young professionals are sent one message on repeat: internships, internships, internships. Although these gigs are great for getting your foot in the door, they’re not the only means of bumping your resume to the top of the applicant pile. Dana Hundley and Jenna Richardson, cofounders of Career Cooperative and career experts working to take the stress out of the job search, explain why they believe in the value of volunteer work — and how it can lend itself to paid professional work in the long run.

Two volunteers smile while sorting clothing donations

1. It helps you gain valuable skills. Although there’s an opportunity to learn important skills in internships or entry-level jobs, Richardson tells us that volunteer work is more likely to enable you to develop skills that will translate well once you’re in a managerial role. For example, it’s more common to work as a mentor or coach when volunteering than in the more basic roles typical of internships and entry-level positions. The expertise you take away can put you on a path to speedy professional development.

2. It enables you to expand your network. Connections are key when it comes to starting or advancing your career, and volunteering is a great way to establish more of them — and a fun, less stressful way, at that. “Bonding over a common interest is much more seamless of a conversation than the awkward interactions of a networking event,” Richardson reminds us. “And you never know who you’ll meet!”

3. It shows your passions and values. If you’re going to spend your free time working without remuneration, it’s likely that the cause is something you care deeply about, and potential employers are going to pay attention to that. “To a hiring manager, it’s the start to a bigger candidate story outside of just the skillset and roles listed on your resume,” encourages Hundley. “[Volunteer experience indicates] how you might fit into the company culture and values, especially if some of the volunteer organization’s values align with the company’s values.”

4. It allows for industry-specific experience. Whether you’re looking to launch your career for the first time, switch roles in an existing line of work, or enter a new industry altogether, volunteer experience can be your answer. “Even if you don’t have professional work experience in a specific industry, volunteering is a great way to get and show similar industry experience,” Hundley explains. Oftentimes more accessible and less time-consuming than other means of experience, volunteer work is truly a win-win.

Where can you be found volunteering your free time? Tweet us @BritandCo.

(Photo via Getty)