For many newcomers to Québec who I’ve met, the idea of taking a volunteer position is far from their minds. Some people believe that volunteering is a waste of time compared with searching for a paying job, or that volunteering is for retired people looking for something to do. I explain to these people that, in fact, many benefits and opportunities can be gained from taking on a volunteering gig!
In an effort to move beyond the stereotypes, let’s explore the top six reasons why volunteering is a good idea for job seekers, and newcomers in particular.
An opportunity to learn about Québec’s culture
Volunteering is an excellent way to immerse yourself in Québec’s culture and to gain an understanding of its nuances. The more you learn about your new home, the better equipped you will be to adopt a winning attitude and to facilitate your integration.
Here’s an example: I regularly meet women who, as soon as they arrive in Québec, apply to a master’s program at a local university thinking that this will help them enter the job market. Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee that doing so will lead to a job! Many employers are looking for real-world work experience, something that a master’s degree doesn’t provide.
Celine Gouzon, volunteer coordinator for the Montreal Women’s Center, says that volunteering “is above all else a way to become intimate with a culture and it’s social norms that simply isn’t possible in an academic environment – an important process that is crucial to a successful professional integration.”
Gouzon adds that “Volunteering also provides the joy of being part of a community with shared values and populated by people of diverse backgrounds. A successful integration is marked by being able to evolve in varied contexts and social groups within the bosom of the society which one is joining; volunteering provides those opportunities.”
Moving to a new country isn’t easy, and some newcomers find themselves quickly becoming isolated after they arrive. This is another area where volunteering can help: by joining a team of individuals working together with a common goal, you will meet new people and have the chance to participate in interesting projects. Your efforts will be recognized and you will feel a sense of accomplishment and pride – a positive experience that will help boost your self-esteem.
That’s been my experience with volunteering. My own time with the Montreal Women’s Center helped me to stay positive and prepared me to rejoin the workforce. I met some great people and developed a professional network.
Developing your professional skills
Volunteering also provides an opportunity to develop your skills. Perhaps your French is a bit rusty, and you don’t often have opportunities to practice? Seek out a volunteering opportunity where you can practice in a bilingual environment! Immersing yourself can only do you good, and in Montréal you have plenty of choices. You could also build your digital or IT skills, or develop your capacity for teamwork – there are limitless opportunities.
Improving your CV
Maybe you already have the skills required to apply for your preferred job, but you’re missing invaluable “hands on” experience in the Canadian market. Thankfully, volunteer experience is generally well-regarded and recognized as valuable by many employers. Don’t hesitate to include volunteering work on your CV: for a recruiter, this experience says a lot about you. They can see that you are working hard to integrate yourself and to participate in Québec society. As well, you demonstrate that you can work as part of a team and that you’re utilizing the skills you acquired in your country of origin. Also keep in mind that your supervisor in your volunteering job can be a reference in the future!
Undertake a new training program or change careers
Are you unsure of whether to change careers or go back to school? Volunteering can help you decide. The best way to make an informed decision about such an important step is to confront reality and ask yourself: Do I have the qualities needed to do this job? Is the schedule compatible with my personal life? Do I really need to go back to school to achieve my goals? All these questions and more are easily answered by doing volunteer work in the sector you’re interested in.
Volunteering can help you avoid undertaking long study programs that may not end up meeting your needs, or those of employers. Doing some volunteer work can quickly validate whether or not a field is right for you.
Find a job
If you’ve shown your skills to be valuable to an organization and have worked well as part of a team, when a position does become available there’s a good chance that you will be considered! Employers would always rather hire someone who they’re familiar with. That said, I would suggest that you should not have too many expectations in terms of getting a job as a result of your volunteering, and instead just enjoy the volunteering experience as much as possible. There’s no guarantee that a paid position will become available, but the benefits of volunteering are many, and they will serve you well.
Clearly, volunteering is not a waste of time! The experience, despite being unpaid, can help take you places you want to go – or, with a bit of luck, directly where you want to be.
I’ll leave you with a few tips to get started:
1- Make sure to choose the organization that you will volunteer with wisely; their mission should align with your objectives. Julie, director of educational services at the Montreal Women’s Center, said that “When I recruit a new volunteer, I always ask what they expect to get out of the experience, because I want to make sure the arrangement is beneficial for both parties.”
2- Be strategic: Don’t throw yourself at the first offer, and don’t hesitate to change volunteer jobs if one isn’t working out. Stay open to new challenges and opportunities.
3- Don’t volunteer full-time: You need to have free time to look for a paying job or to attend training programs or school.
4- Reach out to specialized volunteer organizations such as Centre d’Action Bénévole de Montréal, Accès Bénévolat. Ask for advice from your employment counselor.
5- Finally, persevere! Organizations get many requests from potential volunteers and don’t always respond to inquiries quickly. Try to establish a personal contact at the organization to stand out from the pack.
By: Fabienne Gardoni – Employment counselor, Montréal Women’s Centre