Bookmark and Share

Volunteering May Help You Get a Job: But Don’t Count On It

Many employers are only interested in hearing from applicants with Canadian experience and references. On the face of it, volunteering looks like a good way to get Canadian experience and references. This is why youngsters and new immigrants looking for their first job in Canada are often told that volunteering is a good way to gain experience and get one’s career going. Sounds like a good advice: But does it really work?


There is no question that volunteering is good for our communities: It helps to get things done that communities need but can’t afford to pay for. It benefits the volunteers too: It gives them an opportunity to network, to get involved in their communities, and meet their neighbours or others who share their views. Volunteering is a noble thing to do. To volunteer is to donate one’s time and skills: Which is as good as donating money, because if organizations and communities did not receive certain services for free, they would have to pay for them.


But if you have just immigrated to Canada with your family and kids, getting a job is your top priority. You have just sold your possessions to move to a new country and start a new life. You will be spending your hard earned savings while you are volunteering your services to a society that you most likely know little about. Even a humble living of a family of 4 in the GTA costs about $1,700 to $2,000 per month. So volunteering for 6 months will shrink your savings by more than $10,000. This is a large investment that only makes sense if it brings you a reasonably good prospect of getting paid employment.

On the other hand, if you have just finished school and you are still living at your parents’ home, you are probably more flexible. Spending 6 months volunteering in your community will likely not cost you a lot, and might be a good adventure – especially if you are not yet quite sure about what you want to do with your life. But if you are volunteering just because you hope that this will help you get a job, you should consider the odds of accomplishing your goal too.


I asked several immigrants about their own experience, and here are some interesting stories that I heard:


Dawn (all names have been changed to protect the privacy of the people I spoke with) holds an office management college diploma from her homeland, and worked in the non-profit sector before coming to Canada. Volunteering seemed to make sense to her: All she needed was to get some Canadian experience to back her credentials, she thought. She started volunteering at a non-profit organization in Toronto that provides support services to the elderly. She volunteered 15 to 20 hours per week for about 8 months, until one day she heard that another department of the same organization was looking to hire someone part-time with background similar to hers. She applied and was rejected due to lack of “Canadian” experience: She was told that they were looking for someone with actual job experience, and volunteering did not qualify.


Dawn also tried volunteering with another non-profit organization for support of new immigrants. She expected that she would be doing administrative office work and gain “Canadian” experience. But on the day after she started, a manager asked her to clean the office’s floors. The same thing happened on the third day. Disappointed and frustrated, Dawn quit and decided that to go to college in Canada.


While studying, Dawn found a part-time employment opportunity at the college, which helped her gain experience. She graduated with honors, and was hired as a full-time employee by a well known company less than a month later.


George’s story is very similar. He was also a new immigrant, and holds a Master’s degree from his home country. George volunteered with an organization in Toronto for about 3 months after coming to Canada, hoping that this will help him find his way in Canadian society and open the door to his first job. A job opportunity did indeed appear at the organization where he was volunteering. He applied but was rejected because, he was told, he did not really have Canadian experience. George quit and decided to go to university to get a Canadian degree.


The stories of George and Dawn are not at all uncommon. They reflect the experience of most people I spoke with. I did, in fact, find two people who felt that their volunteering experience helped them land their first jobs. However, both of them volunteered while taking college programs at colleges in Canada.


The conclusion is clear: If you have limited time and resources (as most new immigrants do), it is not a good idea to rely on volunteering alone as a gateway to gaining work experience in Canada. A better investment of your time would be to upgrade (and/or certify) your skills by taking an education program at an established Canadian college or university. Don’t be afraid to take out a student loan if you need to. It is a good idea to use the services available to you at the college or university to find a part-time job that will help you get some experience.


You can still volunteer your time and skills in your spare time if you wish, but you should not do so if your only objective is to find a job. Volunteering your time is same as donating your money: It is only worthwhile if you believe in the cause that you are contributing to, and you feel that your contribution is appreciated and will make a difference. If all that you are truly looking for is a job, then there are more efficient ways to get one.

Leave a Reply