There are many reasons for volunteering in your community, and while many people advise job seekers to volunteer, it isn’t always immediately clear how that volunteer work is really of much help. I thought therefore I’d use my own volunteer experience as an example; share what I put in and what I get out of it. See what you think.
If you find yourself seated in the Academy Theatre tonight in the town of Lindsay, Ontario Canada, you’d be entertained with an amateur production of the play, Mary Poppins. Among the cast, you’d pick out my name in the programme, and I’d be one of two gentleman singing a song that opens the show. Yes, for the next two weeks, I’ll be one member of a cast of local people who will bring this musical production to life.
So how does volunteering in a local musical production on my own time in any way advance or promote opportunities for professional development, networking and any career aspirations I might have? (And of course, that you may have if you were similarly involved?) That is a great question.
For starters you have to look at the kind of people who are attracted to these kind of productions. In our cast, we have Teachers, Lawyers, a Judge, local business owners, Musicians, Social Services Workers, a Municipal Director, Attorneys, a Yoga Instructor, a President of a local non-profit association – and that’s just to name a fifth of the cast. In addition to the adult actors on stage, there are a number of child and teen performers who have parents in attendance. There are the stage crew, the orchestra, Set and Costume Designers, Painters, Seamstresses, theatre personnel, make-up people and Lighting Technicians.
Think about all those people with whom you could interact with over a few months right from the first casting call to the final curtain and cast party. That’s an awful lot of opportunity to mingle, introduce yourself, forge a relationship, share a beverage with, learn your lines with. The play becomes the vehicle which brings you together and gives you common ground to start those conversations.
In addition to donating your time and raising some funds for the theatre or the larger community, you just feel good having some fun. It can be a creative outlet for those who need it, a pressure release valve for those who work in stressful day jobs, and it provides some work/life balance. Another interesting thing you’d find is that families often share the stage together; this year as in the past, I’m sharing this experience with my wife who has a small role and is also a Stage Manager in the wings when she’s not on stage. In years past, my daughter was also involved and the three of us bonded through the musical productions.
Good people join these productions. The students are only those who excel in school and can handle the rehearsal schedules while keeping marks up. The actors are good people, many of whom are leaders in their community. With no one getting a single dime for this experience, the people are invested because they want to have fun and love it.
Okay, so here I am networking with all these people. Remember that old saying, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know?” And have you ever said to someone, “But I don’t know anyone! How do I get to know the right people?” Volunteering is one way to go about it. The best time to actually volunteer is long before you actually need those contacts for your personal gain. In other words, now is the best time to get involved and volunteer in some organization where you live and where you want to work.
Now while I’m not actively asking my theatre friends for a job, imagine if I was looking for work. With all these people available to me, I could certainly put out the word that I was looking and would appreciate any leads on jobs or the opportunity to interview for one. Ah, the opportunity to interview…. The entire time I’m interacting with these people, they are seeing what I’m like to work with, whether I’m positive, helpful, supportive or self-absorbed, aloof, critical etc. Every rehearsal with them is a little piece they gather and add to whatever opinion they are forming of me. In other words, my entire volunteer experience with them is a long interview.
I could also draw upon these fellow thespians and ask them to stand as a reference; they could speak to my dependability, friendliness, community service, character etc. Sure I may not see them ever again, but I can tell you I’ve acted with some of these people for over 20 years..
So here it is opening night. I’ve made some new friends, had lots of fun and laughs, helped mentor some new to the stage, benefitted myself from others suggestions and look great due to the efforts of the Costume Designers. I’m at the stage where I’m the guy helping other men do their makeup; something I don’t get to say very often!
This volunteer work is on my LinkedIn profile; it’s on my resume / CV, and I have a separate theatre resume I use when auditioning for roles outside my local community too.
If you are looking to work or advance your career, consider investing in volunteerism.