In a career rut? Feel like you’re not engaged in your community? Recently unemployed? Looking for ways to round out your skills and experience? Wish you could be a professional networking all-star? Trying to justify a gap year? We’ve got a one-size-fits-all solution: Become a volunteer.

Improve your skills and relevant experience.

Volunteering is a great way to hone your skills (both practical and social) or give them a major upgrade, continue your professional development, and expand your knowledge. It’s also a way to boost your confidence and sense of self-esteem. The key is to be selective in identifying positions and organizations that align with your chosen career.

For example: if you’re pursing a career in accounting, how about volunteering as a bookkeeper for a local charity, or participating in a school financial literacy or STEM program? If you’re working as an entry-level marketing at a large corporation and you’re an animal lover, get exposed to marketing for a small nonprofit organization and give back to a cause that’s near and dear to your heart by lending your skills to an animal shelter’s outreach, event marketing, and fundraising efforts. You’ll be able to say you’ve got experience in the nonprofit sector, plus you’ll stretch yourself by applying your existing knowledge and learning new tools of the trade in a new and vastly different environment. Interested in gaining leadership skills? Join a charity board, serve as a volunteer manager, direct. Feeling entrepreneurial? Pave your own path by founding your own charity.

Expand your network in a meaningful way.

Talk about a great way to make connections and meet new contacts. Not only is volunteering a great way to give back, it opens up a community of like-minded people with whom you can connect both personally and professionally. Volunteering gives you the chance to develop deep connections and put yourself in a position to request professional references, job shadows, and informational interviews when you need them down the road. You may even be able to get credit for your volunteer work.

For example: if you’re a counseling psychology student, volunteer work can take place through an internship, research assistantship, or off-campus position at a hospital, clinic, counseling center, homeless shelter, crisis helpline center, hospice, or any setting in need of human services. While the time you spend will certainly help you get ahead, you can be sure you’ll meet professionals who will provide inspiration, mentorship, and connections.

Discover something new.

Volunteering gives you the chance to try something new on for size and go outside your comfort zone. It also presents a low-risk way to find the work that you like to do and the work that you don’t. While your main motivation for volunteering should be to give back to others, it’s perfectly fine to pursue a position that will enable you to do some career exploration while you’re at it. Here are just a few examples of how volunteering can help:

For example: volunteering can help you “road test” a potential career by giving you exposure to a work environment or field you might not otherwise have a chance to experience. Curious about what it’s like to work in public service? Many government agencies offer volunteer opportunities from supporting local emergency responders and disaster relief efforts to preserving natural and cultural resources. If you try it out and find it’s not the right fit, no harm no foul: you’ve gained valuable self-knowledge and contributed to society while you were at it.

Move forward personally and professionally.

Sure, you’re volunteering for the greater good, and that alone should make you feel good. But another major benefit is that volunteer experience looks good on college or college applications and resumes. Hiring managers will take note of your dedication and commitment, and time you’ve invested in a special passion project, charity, or cause. You never know; there’s always a chance that by getting your foot in the door, you may find that volunteering can lead to paid employment. While you shouldn’t expect this outcome, some volunteering organizations recruit and hire volunteers for paid positions.

If you ever become unemployed, volunteering is also a great way to avoid gaps in your resume by “filling them in” with your volunteer position that is, ideally, closely related to your skill set and career goals. Unpaid work shows you’re self-motivated, committed to making a difference and take initiative – even when you’re searching for full-time employment. You may want to reformat your resume to best highlight your current endeavor. One way is to use the functional resume format rather than the chronological resume format.

Volunteering Websites

Ready to volunteer? Check out these sites (or simply search for “UNPAID VOLUNTEER” in any popular job search engine) to find a suitable position: