Career Trends: 5 Valuable Professional Skills You Learn Through Volunteering

5 min read

Edition: December 25th, 2021
Curated by the Knowledge Team of ICS Career GPS

You can apply the abilities and attributes you’ve strengthened through volunteering throughout your career journey. (Image Credit: Shutterstock)
  • Excerpts from article by Keira Wilson, published on

Over the long months of the pandemic, we repeatedly saw the power of common citizens engaging in meaningful service — in everything from disaster relief to vaccination drives. But feeling good about helping address our communities’ vastly shifting needs is not the only thing people gain from volunteering.

Volunteering services offer one of the most personally purposeful and dynamic platforms for professional growth. By engaging in different types of service work outside of traditional roles, professionals and students can gain unexpected skills that, ultimately, form the foundation of a solid career.

Here are 5 valuable professional skills that you gain from volunteering:

1. A mind-set of self-awareness

  • The pandemic cracked open our personal awareness limitations, revealing to us that our actions must be consistent, coordinated and sustainable.
  • We’ve had to focus on centering our self-awareness and understanding who we are and what skills we have to offer in this rapidly changing environment.
  • When self-awareness is practised professionally, it creates the stage to strengthen other necessary skills in all our personal and professional spheres.
  • Our skill in understanding ourselves in different contexts helps us build empathy and establish collaborative work environments.

2. Agility in solving problems

  • No skill is more sought-after by employers than problem-solving, especially as our fragile economic and local infrastructures have strained under rapidly shifting community and commercial needs.
  • From disaster relief mid-pandemic to totally restructuring education and healthcare, volunteers have taken on new roles in new environments.
  • Meanwhile, the bureaucracy of organisations grappled with the unsteady grounds of rapid change for which they were not built.
  • The pandemic prepared many unwitting volunteers to become agents of change and develop what many colleges, universities and other organisations seek in their employees as the ability “to operate in a fast-paced environment.”

3. Comfort with ambiguity

  • In addition to problem-solving, working in a fast-paced environment also means moving forward and testing ideas, sometimes with great ambiguity and no clear path forward.
  • The practices of design thinking encourage us to iterate as we make discoveries through ambiguous issues.
  • In the spring of 2020, the pandemic forced higher education institutions to re-imagine campus communities, awakening faculty, staff and students to engage their skills within an unknown academic environment.
  • Whether volunteering to serve or working for an organisation, the power to navigate ambiguity and solve problems quickly becomes invaluable for a successful work environment. And these are the qualities that employers seek.

4. A collaborative approach

  • Teamwork is among the most wanted and powerful skills of today.
  • In service, teamwork embodies two core components that are important transferable skills. These are:
  1. The team’s ability to understand its strengths and challenges: With a keen sense of self-awareness and the ability to adapt quickly, the team can move to fill gaps in work and action.
  2. The ability to apply multidimensional systems thinking throughout the collaboration cycle: We can’t focus simply on layers of work and project management; we also must consider how the project affects other elements of that work outside its scope. Multidimensional systems thinking goes well beyond the simple task at hand and includes the impact on your team’s personal and professional spheres.
  • Mutual aid networks have become one of the most visible collaborative approaches for teamwork, focused specifically on the nuanced ability of individuals to respond as an organised group to complex needs.
  • When we practise a collaborative approach, we gain the nuanced leadership experience necessary to carry a team, class or organisation forward through extraordinary change.

5. Active preparedness

  • Working in any position, at some point, we’ll be presented with unexpected problems that we hope to solve.
  • Actively preparing means using one’s critical thinking skills in observing, analysing, uncovering assumptions and determining a set of possible solutions to the issues facing us today.
  • Active preparedness also means being a proactive futurist, using the information we have today to explore possibilities and how they might emerge.
  • We are not just thinking about the most direct outcome — though that is important in addressing current needs. We are also assessing the long-term impacts of our decisions and the outcome for future possibilities.
  • E.g.: Disaster response teams help train volunteers to address a range of immediate needs and support long-term recovery efforts.
  • Volunteering equips students and professionals with hands-on preparedness training. We become less anxious about the unknown and are better able to tackle projects in a proactive manner.

Reflect on the volunteerism you have engaged in this year. You may notice that, through your service, you have honed many skills. You can now apply these skills and attributes in not only seeking a new job opportunity but throughout your career.


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(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the article mentioned above are those of the author(s). They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of ICS Career GPS or its staff.)

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