Want to do good in your career? Do good for the world, first

Mark Horoszowski

Deana was a senior UX designed at a large tech company interested in leading design strategy on bigger projects and teams. Try as she might, promotion eluded her. The challenge? The project she was on was limited in scope and wasn’t going to give her the opportunity to prove that she was capable of management and design strategy.

She worked hard to expand her network and find a career growth opportunity, but she continued to hear comments like, “we think you’d be great, but we’re looking for someone with more end-to-end design experience” or “your design experience is great, but we need someone that has managed before.

Fast forward a couple years, and now Deana leads a high visibility product, and manages a team across 3 continents. So how did Deana convince Directors at her company that she was ready for a bigger role? She proved it through her volunteer work.

As we published in our career growth guide, done the right way, skills-based volunteering can do more than contribute to the greater good. With the proper goal setting and reflection, volunteering will help you develop your skills and build your professional story so that you can accelerate your career. But not all skills-based volunteering projects are created equal. To make sure your volunteer work makes a real impact to the world and you, follow these steps:


Step #1: Identify your strengths and what you need to further develop

In our career growth and social impact fellowship, we advise all our participants to engage in a project that builds on their strength, but stretches them to grow. If you’re not confident in what your strengths are, try doing these three things:

  1. Watch this talk from author of Go Put Your Strengths to Work, Marcus Buckingham, to learn about the SIGNs of your strengths, and use that focus what you want to build on
  2. Talk to old coworkers, friends and past managers to validate your reflections on your strengths
  3. Brainstorm the types of projects that would build on your strengths, and what they might look like in different industries

To identify what you need to further develop, take the feedback that you have heard from managers or potential employers about that gap on your resume and professional story, and what you need to develop to get to the next level. Now, building off your strengths brainstorm, think about the types of projects that will build on your strengths, but stretch you to also grow in these areas.


Step #2. Get advice on how to develop your gaps

We see that one of the most effective ways to get practical guidance on how to develop your gaps is to talk to others who have done the same. A great way to do that is to spend time networking with people who have a similar strength as you, and have managed to develop their careers. Using your friends, mentor(s), and even by doing cold-reachout on LinkedIn, find other people that have developed the skills you are trying to develop.


Step #3. Set learning goals

Now that you know what to develop, and how others have successfully developed it, set some SMART goals for your career growth (Career Contessa has some good tips for this). Once you write your goals, make sure to put them some place visible and ask a friend to hold you accountable.


Step #4. Find a project that will stretch you

Now that you know what you’re great at, and what you want to develop, go find a volunteering project that will help you do just that. As we discovered in our research of recruiters and hiring managers, people do see skills-based volunteer work as relevant experience that can help you stand out in the job hunt. There are lots of ways to find skills-based projects, suing platforms like Catchafire, Taproot+, MovingWorlds (author bias), and VolunteerMatch.


Step #5. Reflect and teach back

Reflection is one of the most powerful ways to learn from the work that you’ve done in the past. Using a reflection framework, like Think Back, Think Through, Think Forward, you can better understand how you performed on the project you completed, and how it can impact your work going forward. Once you reflect on what you learned, try and share your lessons learned with a friend or colleague. Doing so will help you practice your professional story.


Completing these 5 steps will help you build on your strengths while helping you develop your professional profile. Doing so will give you the stretch learning experience you need to earn your next project, promotion, or job.



Mark Horoszowski is the CEO at MovingWorlds.org, Co-founder of #Experteering. Lectures on CSR at the University of Washington. RSA Fellow.