Applied Sociology Career Advice: Get into Volunteering

Volunteering does more than boost community belonging; it also boosts economic productivity and improves the social skills of workers. For applied sociologists, doing unpaid work with a not-for-profit will open up new doors throughout your career. The only obstacle is learning how to best reflect on your volunteering and showing your understanding of how your skills and knowledge translates to other fields.

Volunteering can help you get a job as an applied sociologist
Volunteering can help you get a job as an applied sociologist

From Volunteering to Paid Work

For example, working at a counselling centre will give you practical experience that is highly sought after in a rage of case management jobs, such as working in health, in supporting the resettlement of new migrants and refugees, and in other social and community development work. Volunteering as a teacher or tutor will also be invaluable. There are plenty of local councils and community-run centres in need of instructors to teach basic technology, English-as-a-second language, and other life skills.

I used to be a volunteer tutor working with disadvantaged students who had learning difficulties. I did this work over the first two years of my career outside academia. It was tough to be working full-time and also doing this work, but it was intellectually challenging and highly rewarding. This position has been looked upon highly favourably in the various industries I’ve worked in since, from federal government to business to contract work with local and state organisations.

It’s not just the specialist skills and experience that will benefit you, but also the fact that employers like to recruit people with knowledge of how organisations function. Volunteer work can help you get a job as a social planner in a local council, or as a political analyst for an international not-for-profit organisation, or a researcher in social marketing (that’s working on health and social policy marketing for government groups). The possibilities are endless!

From Paid Work to Volunteering

Photo: Fort George G. Meade. Via Flickr
Photo: Fort George G. Meade. Via Flickr

If you’re working, finding the time to volunteer your specialist skills as a sociologist will also help you establish new career opportunities down the track. The volunteering work I do with different public education and science organisations has grown my social media communication skills and my ability to collaborate with professionals from other fields. Knowing how to blend grassroots passion for a social cause with new technologies is a critical skill that ensures the long-term success of volunteer organisations, especially in social justice.

Multi-disciplinary experience is highly valued by policy, industry and corporate employers. Your only challenge is in showing how your volunteering translates to different industries. This is not hard to do using the sociological perspective! Learning to work towards common goals with people from different backgrounds is invaluable.

Photo: Pennsylvania National Guard. Via Flickr
Photo: Pennsylvania National Guard. Via Flickr

As a volunteer you’ll have various rich examples of having to work with clients and stakeholders in order to reach objectives. Did an issue arise in your volunteer work where a client was unhappy with the organisation or their personal outcomes? How did you address this? Did a conflict arise amongst the volunteers that impacted on morale or collective goals? How did you manage this? Volunteer organisations are typically (though not always) small, and they tend to lack adequate funding and resources. This means having to be creative with less and also making compromises without damaging the wellbeing of clients and workers. These are the types of professional skills that all employers highly value.

Finding Support

If you’re still studying, speak to your graduate centre to find out if there are any special programs or scholarships to support your volunteering. Keene State University recently featured a sociology Masters student, Adrienne Osborne ’12, who received a scholarship in recognition of her volunteering and to further support her continuing not-for-profit work. She speaks of the personal benefits of volunteering:

“I’ve met some of my closest friends through volunteer work all over New England. Volunteering was my favourite part of college, especially the work I did with Circle K. I love raising money in my community for various nonprofit organizations, and I also love spending time helping those who need it (Alzheimer’s Association, Camp Sunshine, and BWH, to name a few).”

Have you worked as a volunteer? What did you do and how do you think you might use these skills in your career as an applied sociologist? Write us in the comments below!