How Volunteering Can Hurt Your Career

16 Dec

Many people, including me, recommend volunteer work as a great way to get your name out there and make connections. But, there’s one sure way that volunteering can put the stops to that: by saying that you’ll be there, but not bothering to show up.

Last month, I went to an event held by a professional organization that I belong to, and ended up helping out at the last minute because so many people who had volunteered to help had bailed out. “Why is not showing up so bad,” you might be asking yourself? “After all, it’s not like they’re paying me.”

Well, everyone involved is a potential connection at the least, and a potential employer or client at the most. So, instead of making the impression that you’re someone who’s dedicated and can get the job done, you’ve left them thinking that you’re irresponsible and undependable. In this case, the people left hanging were a Board Member—who is also a working Art Director in the position to make hires—and the Executive Director. Both are regularly asked to recommend candidates. Which person do you think will get a referral from them, the one who came and helped to make the event go smoothly, or the one who left them scrambling at the last minute?

Now, of course, life happens. People get sick and emergencies come up. If this is the case, make sure to give as much notice as possible, so the people who you’ve committed to can round up a replacement. Even better, volunteer for the next event right on the spot, and give them some names of possible replacements when you notify them that you can’t make it. And, on that note, don’t DARE just not bother to show up without letting them know. That’s a guarantee that they’ll never forget you.


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