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Volunteering: That Extra Boost Needed to Propel Your Career

Nicole Williams

Two equally talented and qualified candidates are competing for a position at a major national magazine. One candidate highlights her work with the ASPCA in the Volunteer and Causes section of her LinkedIn profile, while the other candidate doesn't include volunteer experience. Who landed the job? You guessed it -- the candidate who showcased her volunteer work. The magazine's hiring manager felt the candidate with volunteer experience had an advantage when compared to the competition, because she demonstrated that she was passionate and hardworking both in and out of the office. In a competitive marketplace, volunteer work can be the differentiating factor between interviewing for the job, and beating out the competition to secure it.

The LinkedIn Volunteer Marketplace is a new platform for both professionals and nonprofits to find one another on LinkedIn. Nonprofit organizations can easily search for LinkedIn members who have expressed an interest in volunteering, while these members can browse hundreds of specific, high-quality skills-based volunteer positions that nonprofits are seeking to fill.

To date, more than three million LinkedIn members have added the Volunteer and Causes section to their profile and over the last six months alone, more than 600,000 have indicated they would like to serve on a board or provide skill-based volunteering. It is these members that understand that volunteering is an important asset for career growth, and that their passion for giving back can advance their professional career.

Helping others matters. Recent LinkedIn research shows that one out of every five hiring managers in the United States agree they have hired a candidate because of his or her volunteer work experience. Your volunteer experience is important, and if you don't include it in your profile or highlight it in a job interview, then you're not getting the credit you deserve.

Quality of impact vs. quantity of time expended. Many people think the amount of time needed to participate in a volunteer project will equate to taking on a second job. This could be a reason why some professionals may hesitate before signing up for a volunteer position. The truth is that volunteering comes in many shapes and sizes, and it's possible to find projects that you feel passionate about and work with your schedule. Some volunteer opportunities can be very time-intensive, but in the majority of cases, it's about the quality of impact versus the quantity of time expended. Think about volunteer projects within the context of your life, and identify those projects where you can make the greatest impact that still fit within your schedule.

For example, if you are an expert social media guru who can muster-up a few thousand followers in your sleep, this is an area where you can volunteer your time, especially if your goal isn't the acquisition of a new skill. Many volunteer bridges have been burned by virtue of over-promising what you can contribute, so be honest about what you are able give from the start.

Test-drive your passion. One of the safest ways to test-drive your interest in a certain career is to try volunteering your talents in that industry. Not only do you get to try your hand at a repertoire of new skills and experiences, but you'll also display these talents to a whole host of peers who just may have the connections to help you get hired.

You never know whom you're going to meet. The majority of career enhancing opportunities come through relationships, and volunteering exposes you to people you might not otherwise encounter. Furthermore, volunteer relationships are particularly beneficial since many of the folks you interact with while volunteering are also driven, conscientious professionals who can serve as great referrals. Volunteering opens you up to a whole new world of qualified and valuable connections.

Giving money is still contributing. If you can't seem to find the time to volunteer, think about making a financial contribution. Even the smallest donation can make a difference. If your profession allows, you can also donate your services to fundraising initiatives and events. Most charities need all components of their events -- including food, catering, Web design, music, photography, etc. -- to be donated. If you are an interior decorator, stylist, jewelry designer or chef, you can donate a service while also promoting your small business. Most charities will help you promote your company through by including your logo on their events' marketing materials, invitations, signage, etc.

You can also support causes you believe in by way of petitions, fitness events, rallies and other one-off fundraising events. For example, with causes like education, animal rights and healthcare, there are many ways to an impact and demonstrate your support, which require a minimal time commitment.

In today's hyper-competitive world of work, volunteering not only provides you with the opportunity to showcase your talents and experiences, but it also allows you to demonstrate compassion and commitment. Get motivated to help others and you'll help your professional profile stand out from the rest.

Nicole Williams is the bestselling author of three books, the latest of which, "Girl on Top: Your Guide to Turning Dating Rules into Career Success ," has been optioned by Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen, the producers behind the Academy Award winning films "American Beauty, " "Milk" and "Silver Linings Playbook." Nicole is also LinkedIn's Career Expert. Nicole's role at LinkedIn is to help professionals understand how to enhance their careers using the LinkedIn network. The company she founded, WORKS by Nicole Williams, is the go-to resource for career-minded young women and was named one of Forbes magazine's Top 10 Career Websites for Women. You've seen her on TV -- as a regular guest on "TODAY," "Good Morning America, " and CNN -- and in print, where her advice has appeared on the pages of ELLE , Cosmopolitan , Glamour , Marie Claire and the Wall Street Journal.

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