In 2003, I became an AmeriCorps volunteer. For nearly a year, I worked in the art room of a Boys & Girls Club in Columbus, Ohio, creating educational and fun projects for 6-12 year-olds. It was a rewarding, challenging, and educational part of my career.
I can also say that it truly helped me later on when I decided to become a high school English teacher. During my student teaching, I felt fairly comfortable with classroom management and discipline—which are usually the bane of a new teacher’s existence—because I had already learned some great techniques during my time as a volunteer with the Boys & Girls Club.
Job seekers who are having trouble finding work are often urged to spend some time volunteering. It is yet another great way to network, it helps to alleviate the stress of the job search, and it also can keep your skills fresh or introduce some new ones.
How Volunteer Work Can Help You Get a Job
According to statistics from April 2011, more than 6.1 million Americans have been unemployed for at least six months, which is a record high. Those numbers mean that no matter if you’re a recent graduate, were laid off, or are looking for a new career, you’ll probably need some non-traditional tactics to land the job of your dreams.
How Volunteering Helps Your Job Search
It may seem counter-intuitive to suggest that working for free is a solution to finding work that pays. But doing volunteer work can be a powerful way to make connections, showcase your talents, learn new skills, and give back to your community at the same time. After all, getting the job of your dreams usually comes down to knowing influential people, having the right skills, or both.
Expand Your Volunteer Network to Find Work
If you’ve done volunteer work, you know that people can take it very seriously. I’ve attended meetings for volunteer groups that were more ambitious and ruthless than for-profit meetings! Non-profit organizations are always recruiting new blood and want their members to rise in the ranks and serve on their board of directors.
When you raise your hand to take an office with a volunteer group, not only do you learn how high-level meetings are run, but you get to rub shoulders with the most influential people in the organization. Those people probably know about job openings or know other prominent people who do. Being an active volunteer gives you the opportunity to create valuable contacts who might tip you off about a job opportunity or give you a glowing reference.
Develop Leadership Skills by Volunteering
A volunteer organization is an ideal place to sharpen your skills and develop your leadership abilities. When you supervise tasks, plan events, budget funds, or train other volunteers, for instance, you can retain existing professional skills or learn new ones. Having the opportunity to feel useful in a volunteer environment will also give you confidence and keep your spirits up during a professional rough patch.
How to Balance Volunteer Work and a Job Search
You might think that doing volunteer work will hold you back from your job hunt. While you shouldn’t volunteer so much that you have no time left to find a job and go on interviews, there is a way to strike a healthy balance.
Here are three tips to get the most out of doing volunteer work so it supercharges your job search:
Volunteer Work Tip #1: Stay Focused on Your Job Search
There’s always more work that needs to be done in a volunteer organization than there are people or hours in the day. That means volunteer work could easily become your full-time job if you don’t put a throttle on it. It’s easy to let the lure of being busy and social get you out of your job hunting mindset—so be sure that your job search remains your top priority. Set a limit on the number of hours you believe is prudent to volunteer each week and don’t exceed it.
Volunteer Work Tip #2: Showcase Your Skills
When you volunteer for specific jobs or events, pick those that will expose your talents and showcase your skills inside the organization as well as to people you might work within the community. When you excel at doing a group’s marketing, fundraising, web site work, public speaking, or accounting, for instance, you’ll get noticed and gain credibility. When one of your volunteer colleagues or community contacts learns about a job opening in your field or an opportunity arises that fits the skills you’ve demonstrated to them, you’ll be the first person they think of.
Volunteer Work Tip #3: Have a Volunteerism Goal
When you take time away from your job hunt to volunteer, be clear about why you’re doing it. If you want the volunteer work to augment your job search, set some goals about how to accomplish that. For instance, you can:
- choose volunteer jobs that will enhance your resume
- agree to do tasks that will broaden your work experience
- keep your volunteer colleagues up-to-date about your job search on a regular basis
- ask for recommendations from those in leadership positions
- connect with as many other volunteers as possible through social networking sites
How to Make Professional Connections on LinkedIn
Speaking of social networking, be sure to read How to Get a Job Using LinkedIn. LinkedIn is the preferred online social site for affluent professionals and it’s been growing like wildfire this year. Whether you’re on a quest for your first job, a career change, or more customers, you can’t afford to ignore the opportunities that LinkedIn has to offer. You can use the LinkedIn job search engine, find companies that are hiring, locate industry networking events, connect with others on LinkedIn, and much more.
Volunteer Opportunities That Teach Valuable Skills
Here are some great volunteer opportunities that will help you learn something new:
1. Habitat for Humanity. I learned some of the (very few) home renovation skills that I know from doing a couple of stints with Habitat for Humanity. This great charity helps to build affordable homes for needy families. Depending on the volunteer need, you could end up having an opportunity to learn various building skills from experts.
If you’re a do-it-yourself expert, Habitat can also offer you an opportunity to lead a crew, teach newbies, or manage a schedule. All of those skills translate to great resume boosters, giving you yet another excellent reason for lending your skills to a good cause.
2. Soup Kitchens. Volunteering at a soup kitchen could give you any number of useful experiences. Any of the work in the kitchen—from preparing the meals to serving them to cleaning up—translate well to the skills needed for a restaurant worker. Some soup kitchens need volunteers to deliver meals to homebound individuals. This can help you feel more connected to your community—and for someone new to town, it can be a great way to learn your way around.
3. Crisis Counseling. Whether you volunteer in a battered women’s shelter, or as an operator at a crisis hotline, this kind of work is not for the faint of heart. But this can be great training for anyone interested in going into social work, counseling, or psychology. Because this sort of volunteer work requires fairly extensive training, it is definitely a great step for anyone considering a career in the helping fields.
4. Museum Docent. Showing tour groups around your local museum not only helps you bone up on art history, but it also gives you a chance to learn public speaking skills, time management, and thinking on your feet. (Ask anyone who has worked as a docent—they can tell you that there’s always a stumper of a question every few tours).
5. Animal Shelter. A love of animals is all you need to spend some time volunteering at an animal shelter, but you can also learn some important skills, as well. If you are interested in becoming a veterinarian or a vet’s lab assistant, your time at the shelter will give you a leg up over those who have not spent time with animals in a formal setting.
Volunteering means that you selflessly give your time to a good cause, but often, you gain much more than you give when you volunteer.