• Opinion: Volunteering made me the HR professional I am today

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  • 18 Jul 2016
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I would never have gained the skills and confidence to start my own business without volunteering, writes Sheetal Gill 

It’s always been in my nature to want to help others, whether or not I’ve had a sense of how I might grow personally from the experience. Volunteering has been a big part of my life for many years, and without doubt has made me the HR professional that I am today.

While at university, I volunteered as an NUS student trainer, helping students develop their presentation, communication and listening skills ready for the world of work. When I was applying for my placement year as part of my graduate CIPD qualification, it certainly gave me the edge at interviews and I landed two placement offers – which is rare – and I accepted the offer from Xerox to work in their L&D team. This set me up for my HR career.

Fast forward to late 2014 and, with more than 10 years’ experience in the public sector, a friend asked if I wanted to volunteer as a customer service partner at an international organisation called SQ Wellness. I thought I had no real customer service experience, but was happy to help where I could. Well, it turns out we HR professionals do have good customer service skills; they are a ‘must’ for helping to influence and encourage managers and employees – especially in unfavourable situations. Volunteering here made me realise how transferable my HR skills are, and now I manage the team of customer service volunteers, working with other lead partner volunteers across the organisation’s global divisions.

This role has helped me grow immensely. I’ve learned about the complexities of working in a multinational team, from understanding culture-specific terminology to ironing out differences in professional practice. I have also had much exposure to international marketing discussions, which has been fascinating. It’s been great to volunteer in an area other than HR, yet I have had many discussions with the HR team, comparing HR practices between countries and agreeing what would work best for us. I know I would never have such experiences for growth in my HR day job; these opportunities were simply not there.

I took voluntary redundancy more than a year ago, and recently set up my own HR consultancy, opening doors to a host of exciting professional opportunities. Had I not had the experience of volunteering in a commercial and international environment, I probably would not have had the business knowledge or confidence to take this step.  

If you’ve never tried a volunteering role, what’s stopping you? This is your chance not only to give back to the community, but also develop new skills that will boost your HR career. I can truly say that you never know where it might lead.

Sheetal Gill is an HR business partner at Gill HR Consultancy

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Comments (3)
  • Really inspiring article, well written.

  • Well-written, with a concrete, personal ROI. A lifelong habit of volunteering really shows the value of helping others with no direct, obvious reward.

    Thank you for sharing!

  • I had a similar experience. I was a volunteer for the local branch of a large UK based charity and was asked by a co-volunteer and friend to help her deliver some training in our branch. I reluctantly agreed, and was hooked. I was then asked to join the team training new volunteers and shortly afterwards work asked me to help provide training for the team I was in there. I did my Cert in Training Practice as a result and when I was made redundant I took the step out of customer services and into L&D consultancy. In the last 15 years I have achieved my FCIPD, a PGCE, a MSc in HRD and Change, and have written and delivered lots of training locally, regionally and nationally for the charity. Today I am a lecturer at my local university and have a strategic level voluntary role with the same charity. If you had told me this 15 years ago, I would have never believed it. It has been great for me, but I think the charity too has gained hugely from this, as have the many learners in business and education with whom I had had contact.