On My Mind / Essays On Success

'Unpaid' doesn't mean 'no reward'

She leaned forward, eager in her business suit, pen agitating above her notebook, salad untouched as she launched right into the "informational interview" about my career path.

"So, how did you become a college president?" she asked, anxious to embrace my recipe for career success.

 "I stuffed envelopes," I said matter-of-factly.

 Her pen stopped in mid-air.  She gave me a stony glance. 

 "No, really, I want to be a college president.  Tell me how you did it --- what did you study, what positions did you hold, how did you climb the ladder?"

I put down my fork and smiled at her, conjuring my best conspiratorial tone.

"Let me tell you my big secret," I said softly, as she leaned forward.  "I volunteered."

Looking puzzled, she put down her pen to take a nibble of a roll.  I encouraged her to eat -- sustenance being essential for the stamina necessary in a presidency.  As she munched, I launched into my story.

After I graduated from Trinity, I stayed active with our Alumnae Association. In the days before email, Facebook and Twitter, stuffing thousands of envelopes with invitations to events or appeals for the annual fund was a major volunteer effort.

I soon developed networks with the older alums who ran the stuffing parties.  After a while, they invited me to join the volunteer board of the association. I stayed active with this group as I moved on into my professional career, and this volunteer pathway eventually led to my service on Trinity's Board of Trustees, and in the end, my appointment as Trinity's president.

Yes, I needed other skill sets, of course!  It's not just 'who you know' but showing what you can do very, very well that creates a successful career path.  Demonstrating those smarts in volunteer roles is a great way to get ahead.  My professional work as a lawyer and fund raiser gave me great experience, but through my volunteer roles I was able to show my skills to a much broader audience than my co-workers.

Along the way I learned the three most important rules for success through volunteering: 

1.  Raise your hand.

2.  Show up early and often.

3.  Do an outstanding job every single time.

Hmm.  Aren't these the same rules for professional life?  Yes!  Just because the work is unpaid does not mean it requires any less of your time, talent and commitment to excellence.   Remember:  "unpaid" does not mean "no reward."  In fact, some of the best rewards in my life have come through unpaid volunteer service.

Volunteering continues to be important in my work as Trinity's president.   My service on association boards, such as the American Council on Education, is a source of visibility for Trinity and ongoing professional development for me.  Working with the board of the College Success Foundation puts me in touch with business leaders who share my passion for educating the youth of the city.  I get a lot of vital "business to business" networking done in my volunteer service with the Greater Washington Board of Trade.  I especially prize my volunteer work with the Girl Scouts of the Nation's Capital, Goodwill of Greater Washington, and the Community Foundation of the National Capital Region because these organizations share many goals in common with our goals at Trinity. 

While career counselors often focus on getting the right credentials -- diplomas and certificates to symbolize formal education and training -- in fact, the smartest kid in the class will go absolutely nowhere without a great network. Some of the most successful networks are those we build by volunteering.  The investment of time and talent, freely given to organizations that need your volunteer service, can have extraordinary returns in creating future opportunities for professional success.


Patricia McGuire

 |  November 11, 2010; 12:00 AM ET  |  Category:  Personal essays Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Well Yes! How utterly altruistic! Volunteer, and get yourself recognized! Get yourself up there on that stage! Get yourself an audience! That's the way you do it! Money for nothing and your kicks for free! If you send your kids to college, you want to know that it is run by good-hearted people who used to stuff envelopes and will give them straight A's, because they, you know, like, "care". And the main thing is to do an outstanding job of raising your hand and stuffing envelopes.

Posted by: chatard | November 11, 2010 1:13 PM
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Let me tell you about the type of volunteer activity I would like to see in this nation.

I would like to see the banks "volunteer" to comply with ethical standards in banking.

I would like them to not buy off every Congressional representative and regulatory official such that when they steal 30% interest from working people while receiving 0% money from the taxpayer and endless subsidization, they voluntarily recognize that what they are doing is wrong.

I would like banks to volunteer information related to how they got prohibitions from usury removed, even those these had been in our Constitution since the beginning of our nation.

Because if the payoffs are known, the criminals will be as well.

And we can return to restoring the American economy which has been plundered by a handful of immoral scoundrels.

Posted by: inojk | November 11, 2010 12:40 PM
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You are clueless.

Do you know how long this "recession" has dragged on.

There's no gas money or bus fare money left to get to the volunteer work site.

People in DC are comfortably padded with other peoples tax dollars.

In places like California our unemployment rate is running between 12 and 24% depending on which industry you look at.

People have been unemployed of unemployed for years.

All so a handful of scoundrels living off the Wall Street/DC corruption cash machine can pocket billions.

Get real.

Posted by: inojk | November 11, 2010 12:21 PM
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I am a firm believer volunteering is overrated and value driven. The value of one to another is more important than offering something for nothing to others who are not appreciative of the time, effort and expense incurred. That happens far more than not and creates a better looking balance sheet for non-profits who use it to their advantage, not to what their designed or intended purpose may be.

I will continue to assist individuals as they need it, but employ my services as needed, where needed and not necessarily asked. Volunteering may be unpaid but stupidity is definitely rewarded. Sign me: one man's opinion.

Question: How many people who volunteer out of 100 do you think are rewarded with a job or a mean's to support their family? <10% almost certainly.

Posted by: jakesfriend1 | November 11, 2010 11:57 AM
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Perhaps, the volunteer work based upon the principle that everyone can contribute to the well-being of the community.It's a good cause. Days ago, I read some articles, it related that in someplace some private funds, which provides some service to their community plunging into plight, and seeking ways of out. Perhaps, we have to peruse the different social backgrounds behind these public benefit enterprises.

Posted by: fortune1002003 | November 11, 2010 7:56 AM
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