Volunteer Your Way to a Job: 7 Reasons to Start Now!!!
I volunteer as a director of a job-seeking group once a week at the local library. I also work part time at a college as a career advisor, and hope to soon become a full-time employee. How did this come about? Well, in April of 2011, after 12 years with the same company, I was told I would be laid off, along with my entire department, and in September of that year, I, involuntarily, entered the job market.
After much introspection and job searching, I found I wanted to be a career advisor. To do this, I would need a Master’s degree and work, or similar, practical experience. I enrolled into MBA classes at my local college, and started to look for opportunities to volunteer to gain that experience. Most colleges already had interns, or did not have room for one. In January of last year, I discovered a local job club and started to attend it. A couple of weeks later, I learned they needed a new facilitator. I quickly volunteered. A couple of weeks later, I got a call to intern in a career center at a local college. This internship was supposed to last for only three months, but I am still there, now as a part-time employee, working to convince the college to hire me full time.
Many of my job seekers are volunteering as well, some at the Red Cross, some at the Habitat for Humanity, local school systems, and many other organizations. Volunteering during a job search is key to keeping up your skills, staying active, and maintaining your resume. It is especially recommended that volunteers seek opportunities that will use their key work skills. For example, one of my job seekers who is in the mental health field is volunteering in a local school system, counseling the children and running a parenting group. For myself, I just started volunteering with Dress for Success in Worcester at local events, and will soon participate in their Going Places Network. Just last week, Dress for Success held their 5th annual Ladies Night out. At the end of the evening, I was introduced to the assistant director of human services from a local college, which I have been targeting in my job search. I never would have made this connection if I had not been volunteering that night. I will be facilitating topics such as Change Management, Transferable Job Skills and Best Face (dressing and preparing for the interview), which is very relevant to my field of career services.
I have talked to recruiters who told me that employers are discriminating against the unemployed. Some states are working on passing legislation to prevent open discriminating against unemployed job seekers, but personnel managers say evidence of discrimination is hard to prove, because hiring decisions are based on subjective criteria. Long term unemployment is seen as a major red flag, or a sign of a job seeker with rusty skills. Employers have told recruiters to not send them resumes of job seekers who have been unemployed for more than as little as three months! However, employers will consider job seekers who are volunteering in ways that use and improve their relevant skill set.
I recently meet with the volunteer coordinator of our local United Way, and asked him to speak to our job-seeking group about local volunteer opportunities. United Way offers a great path to seek such opportunities, called United Way Community Builders. Here you can sign up and search for local organizations that need your help. Jericho Way is another local organization in Massachusetts that matches up volunteers by their skill set with local organizations that need projects completed.
Volunteering is a great way to help you find a job. Here are 7 reasons to start now:
1. Your self esteem will improve: Getting out of the house during a job search is key to having a healthy self esteem. Volunteering will give you a place to go and a purpose, whereas lounging around in your pajamas or spending hours online applying for random jobs will only work to deplete your self-esteem. You will feel good about helping others, resulting in a healthy mental outlook, which will then shine through in your interviews.
2. Great networking opportunity: Networking is truly the key to a successful job search. According to the book What Color is Your Parachute by Richard Boles, over 60% of jobs are found through networking, while only 4 to 10% of jobs are found on the internet alone. Hiring managers prefer referrals, as they are a known quantity and less of a risk. Volunteering will give you a way to network while doing something you can feel good about. You need to grow your network using all avenues, both in person and on LinkedIn. A friend of mine has been volunteering with the Red Cross. She also recently applied with the American Cancer Society, and was able to find connections through her volunteer network, which helped her get an interview.
3. Filling the employment gap on your resume: This is also a way to build up the resume and bring current relevant experience close to the top of the resume, showing employers that you are engaged and keeping current in your skills.
4. Keeping your skills fresh: Employers are concerned that time away from work results in a lack of skills, or skills that are not up-to-date. Many employers will not hire job seekers without relevant experience, and relevant volunteering is almost as valuable as paid work experience.
5. Finding mentors and support: By volunteering, you will build your support group, something that is critical in a job search. Volunteer coordinators have a better understanding what unemployment is really like, and can better advise you while helping you look for jobs. An added plus is that these mentors can serve as references, endorsing your skills and your work ethic.
6. The company might hire you: Treat the volunteer position just the same as you would a real job, and make yourself indispensible. Seek to take on more responsibility for the higher-ups to notice. Every organization is different. Some will respond by hiring you, others may need to wait for money to be freed up when a budget opens up.
7. Discover a new career path: Many job seekers have told me that by volunteering they discovered a new career path. I have a friend who worked in sales, and then started volunteering for a local non-profit. She found out that she loved the work, and when a job opened up, she applied and got the job. I used to work in the insurance field, started volunteering at my local job-seeking group, and now I work part-time as a career advisor at a local college, after discovering that it is my preferred career path. People have told me that by volunteering, they finally discovered what they really wanted to do when they grew up.