If you’ve been out of the workplace for many years, we often recommend that you consider strategic volunteering, but it may not be clear to you exactly what we mean by this or how it can be a route back to work. For me, strategic volunteering was a crucial step in getting back to work after my career break; I reflected on this during a trustees’ meeting this week (taking time out from Women Returners). As with so many people who take a career break, I had lost any sense of myself as a professional person possessing management and leadership skills that would be of use outside my domestic role. Through joining a charity board, in a non-executive role, I had the opportunity to rebuild my self-belief in a variety of ways:
- talking with other professionals, as equals, on matters of strategy, policy and operations reminded me that I knew about this stuff!
- taking on specific projects, such as overhauling the financial reporting systems, was a concrete opportunity to contribute and make a difference
- feedback from my colleagues was positive and encouraging (in contrast to the normal complaints from my children)
- I learned that my different way of looking at matters (from being the sole female and not steeped in the charity’s historical way of operating) was valued.
What separates strategic volunteering from the other unpaid roles you may have taken on during your break, from class rep to community volunteer, is that the work you are doing creates a platform for your return, either through refreshing or developing your skills, or by being an entry route to a new role.
Strategic volunteering comes in many guises. These are examples of other people who’ve used it as a starting point for their new career:
- Jill volunteered as a business start-up adviser which allowed her to create a portfolio career with a number of NED positions. You can read her story here
- For Suzanne, being PTA chair was a perfect way to revive her dormant people management and influencing skills (there is nothing harder than engaging a group of volunteers), allowed her to be creative in a public arena and gain experience in presenting and speaking to large groups. A bonus was that getting to know her co-chair led to them setting up a business together when their term of office ended.
You can read some other inspiring examples in our previous post: Finding your way back through strategic volunteering.
If you have a story to share, we’d love to hear it!
Posted by Katerina