Why volunteering could be the perfect career boost for mums

Many mums struggle to resume their career after having children. Some worry that the gap on their CV will put them at a disadvantage, while others feel that their skills and confidence are perhaps too rusty to compete, or maybe have lost their passion for their former work.

If this sounds familiar to you, and you’re stuck trying to work out your next career move, we’ve got a solution you may not have considered: volunteering. (And if the first image that comes to mind is well-meaning old ladies selling homemade cakes on a charity stall, dismiss it quickly!)

Today, volunteering offers a wide range of exciting opportunities to brush up on old skills, acquire some new ones, and give your CV the edge it needs to get you back into a rewarding paid job once again (or give you the confidence to make the leap into freelancing or start your own business). Life coach Sarah Sienkiewicz explains why volunteering could be the career boost you need.

Why volunteering can help mums

Let’s face it, in those early months with a newborn, you’re often covered in sick, your emotions are all over the place and you have a body you hardly recognise – it’s enough to make the strongest woman lose her confidence. However, volunteering offers you a gentle chance to venture back into the world of work again, keep your skills up to date and even acquire some new ones.

I’m passionate about volunteering. In my professional life, my personal life and even as a youngster, I’ve always been keen to help people out. I’m not sure whether this ethos started as a Girl Guide, but that sense of getting stuck in and helping out in your community has always played a big part in my life – with massive rewards.

Here’s why I think volunteering is a must for everyone!

Boost your confidence and keep your skills current

As a stay-at-home mum for the last three years I have been blessed with plenty of projects to help keep me sane. Having a career break was a choice we made for our family, and volunteering has bridged the gap between keeping my skills current and sacrificing precious early years with my children. It’s flexible around my family and is something that we enjoy together.

Recently I ran an event for 50 children in our parish. I managed 16 volunteers and designed and sourced materials for all of the craft activities in preparation for the Advent season. The children loved the workshop and it was great team-building for the volunteers who usually work in fairly isolated groups throughout the year.

However, I didn’t expect the huge confidence boost it gave me. As a former PA and coordinator, I’m used to being someone’s right hand woman. And although I was a central part of the teams I worked in, I had never stepped into the boss’ shoes.

Volunteering gave me the opportunity to stretch myself and prove to myself that I can be a successful leader. Now that I have started my own business as a life coach and oracle card reader, I can put these new skills, including leadership, negotiating, sales, marketing, project management and budgeting, to good use.

Volunteer to beat the competition

Martin Connor, Sales Coach at Life’s a Peach agrees that having the word volunteer on your CV can be the differential you need to give you the edge over your competitors in the job market. As more people have degrees, it can be argued that they are devalued.

Volunteering sets you apart from the crowd. The new skills and experience you gain from volunteering could help you change career and lead to a rewarding job in a new industry – and a volunteering role can even sometimes turn into a paid one.

Be introduced to people you would not normally meet

It’s common for companies to choose one charity to support for a year so they can make as big an impact as possible. Katherine Allen Bridal sponsored Banbury Young Homeless Project as their charity of the year for 2013. Their Sales Manager, Lucy Leaper, began by volunteering  to get a hands-on feel for what the charity is about.

When you volunteer your motivation is to give, and like me Lucy did not expect to gain so much from her experience. She dedicates her free time to helping at the food bank and is part of the Wednesday Lunch Club, where the young adults cook a meal together, socialise and have group time to discuss a topic of the week.

Lucy enjoyed the experience so much she’s committed to being a part of the charity even when they’re no longer ‘charity of the year’. She admits she’s grown emotionally attached to the charity and the young people who she has become a role model for – she feels part of the family.

I asked Lucy what her advice would be for anyone considering volunteering, and she said, “Giving is inspiring and so rewarding. It has boosted my self esteem and confidence. I am enjoying the challenge. It has made me realise how lucky I am. You can find the time.”

Investing your time brings deeper rewards

While giving money and donations can be just as worthwhile, the investment and commitment that is required when you take a step further to give your time means that what you get back is more tangible.

You don’t always see where your money goes when you donate, but you get instant feedback when you can see the difference you are making to people’s lives and your community.

Volunteer to follow your passion

There are countless opportunities for volunteering depending on your interests. You could read in schools, get involved with church groups, work with young people, elderly people, animals, work in a community garden, watch birds, or do conservation work.

Volunteers played a central role in the London Olympic and Paralympic games. The Coastguard Service, Mountain and Cave Rescue Service, Police, NHS, Judicary among others all rely on volunteers to continue to exist. I believe there’s a volunteering role out there for everyone!

If you want some ideas of ways you can help out, and for who, Timebank is a national volunteering charity where you can search for and apply for opportunities in your area.

However, volunteering doesn’t just have to be for an official charity. Do you know of a family member or friend that you could help out for a few hours a week, by taking them shopping, giving them a night off by babysitting, cooking them dinner or simply spending time with someone who might be lonely? However small your contribution, it really does make a difference to their lives and yours.

The good feeling that giving generates ripples outwards, too. If we all gave a just a little imagine how big the wave could become. So, what first step will you take to making volunteering one of your goals for 2014? Go on, there’s nothing to lose and everything to gain!

Get more help to relaunch your post-baby career

Volunteering can be a great way to take the first gentle step into a new, posy-baby career. These articles have also got plenty of great advice to help you find a flexible job, start a new freelance career or launch your own business:

Need inspiration and advice? These articles may help too

How does it feel to return to work after maternity leave? What do you need to consider when working at home? You’ll find plenty of inspiration and great tips in these articles:

You can read more about Sarah’s coaching work on her website.