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How Volunteering Helped Guide My Career

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The Comet Closet board “tying up some loose ends” for a thank you card photograph that was sent to a generous corporate sponsor! (Left to right: Pratisha Saharia, Ola Saleh, Colin Holmes, Jiana Khazma, Whitney Hinze)

Volunteering can be a great tool that helps us identify what it is that we want to pursue. Whether you are an undeclared freshman or a senior, you can use this avenue to explore new interests and develop your skills. If you’re like me, it might just help shape your career trajectory.

As a long-term volunteer with the Comet Closet and other initiatives on campus, I wanted to share the top three things I’ve learned about volunteering, and the ways in which it has shaped my career and personal development.

Volunteering can help you discover what you’re passionate about.

Maybe the word “passion” has become overused, but I can truly say that in the act of volunteering, I have learned so much about myself and what activities bring me joy. As I began reflecting on my volunteer experiences, I realized that my interests could potentially crossover into a career.

Working with the Comet Closet helped me discover I loved the event planning, community outreach and creative pieces of my role as a board member. I found that volunteering allowed me to explore my interest in marketing and nonprofit management without having to switch my major (I encourage anyone on the fence about their major to do the same!). In the same vein, volunteering in multiple fields helped me decide that certain careers weren’t for me. And that has been extremely valuable in its own right.

As I continued to volunteer with the Comet Closet, it became apparent to me that working on the creative side of a social cause put an unmistakable sense of excitement in my day. In fact, I know now that this is exactly what I’d love to pursue in my career! Had I not had the opportunity to follow these interests through volunteering, I wouldn’t have had that light-bulb moment where I realized that the combination of creativity and service could be so fulfilling to me. Once this became apparent, it was easy for me to map out my future goals. I started seeking out nonprofit marketing internships, and this led me to an entry-level role at the American Heart Association.

The UTD Rotaract Club officer team posing for a photo at our Spring 2016 initiation banquet for new members. (Left to right: Rebecca Ray, Eric Trevino, Sanaa Tejani, Hugo Venegas, Heba Jundi, Payal Patel, Jiana Khazma)

Volunteering can give you a chance to develop your skills.

If you’re a student in need of experience, the right kind of volunteering can help you build your portfolio and acquire new skills. As the director of marketing for the Comet Closet, I have the opportunity to create and manage a Hootsuite account, work on paid advertising campaigns, design promotional graphics, help develop our website, plan events…and the list goes on! It doesn’t hurt that I’ve made friendships and worked with some amazing people in the process.

During my junior year, I also had the opportunity to serve as the president of the Rotaract Club, a service organization here at UT Dallas. I really believe this experience helped me advance more of my soft skills, as I was able to strengthen both my organizational and interpersonal abilities. I had a team of officers and the membership of my club relying on my time-management abilities and overall direction. I met bimonthly with my faculty advisor to discuss strategy and monitor progress, and was constantly involved with event planning, public speaking and community outreach.

I would argue that what I learned as a student leader is just as relevant to the workplace as any job or internship. Being the president of Rotaract also connected me to a network of professionals working toward social change, and this completely opened my eyes to the world of public service. I was forever changed!

You never know what opportunities volunteering will lead to.

Little did I know that volunteering would land me an invitation to the City Club, where I’d get to network and eat cheesecake with Dallas-area professionals on 72nd floor of the Bank of America Plaza. Say what?

Last spring, the Comet Closet launched a major clothing drive with the Dallas-area Rotary Clubs, and after we had collected all of the donations, I received a call from one of the Rotarians who had left her jacket in the donation box. She offered to host me at an upcoming luncheon so that I could return the item, so I gladly attended. After the meeting was adjourned, I stayed to chat with the board members, several of whom offered to assist us in raising funds and collecting even more clothes by connecting us to their professional network. On top of that, the executive director reached out to me asking if any students were interested in a paid social media internship! But to me, the best part of this experience was realizing how much I loved talking to others who were passionate about social change. After the luncheon, I made a mental note to research more career opportunities in philanthropy.

Another story of unintentional networking ties back to the Rotaract Club. It was freshman year, and I was chatting away with the advisor of our club during our annual banquet. He had gotten to know me through my previous volunteering, and somewhere during our conversation I had mentioned that I was finding it hard to commute to and from my off-campus job. As it turned out, my advisor was looking to fill a student-worker position at the Dean of Students Office. I was encouraged to apply, and ended up getting the job a few weeks later!

The relationships I built through my involvement with the Comet Closet also led to unexpected outcomes, such as being invited to join a student-panel interview committee. Through this experience, I was able to interview three potential new hires in JSOM, which gave me a firsthand look into the other end of the hiring process.

Through these experiences I learned that networking doesn’t always have to occur in settings where an elevator pitch is required. Being of service and getting to know others on a genuine level can be a great form of networking in and of itself. And when an opportunity arises, it doesn’t hurt that you’ve already developed that personal connection with someone who might be in a position to help you.

Though we don’t often think of volunteering as a career booster, it just might help you in unexpected ways. But aside from the career and personal benefits, the best part about volunteering is that all of this effort goes back into the community! The good news is that there will always be an opening when it comes to service, both on and off campus.

Interested in volunteering with the Comet Closet? Contact us at cometcloset@utdallas.edu.

Jiana Khazma

Jiana Khazma is a senior interdisciplinary studies major pursuing a career in marketing and aspires to put her creative talents to use in public service. She is an alumna of the Davidson Management Honors Program and considers herself to be an honorary JSOM student. Jiana currently serves as the director of marketing for the Comet Closet and likes to read, travel and learn more about photography in her free time. Read more articles

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