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Volunteering Your Way to a Job


1/17/2012 4:08:08 PM

By Heather Huhman, Glassdoor.com

It’s no secret the job market is tough. But whether you’ve been unemployed for two months or two years, you can still gain new skills, fill gaps in your resume and network, all the while giving back to your community through volunteering.

Long gone are the days when volunteering meant working in a soup kitchen or taking part in a clothing drive. These days, non-profits need all types of skills from marketing to accounting. Sure you won’t get paid, but the experience you’ll gain can go a long way in landing your next paying job.

“Volunteering is a fantastic way to build skills, contacts and get your foot in the door,” says Sara Sutton Fell, chief executive and founder of FlexJobs. “It’s a great opportunity to show your motivation and contribute.”

But how should you go about getting that volunteer gig? According to career experts, you’ll need to approach it similar to how you would tackle finding a paying job. After all, your goal is to get into a company where you can use your current skills or learn new ones and at the same time have access to the people that can help you transition from volunteer to employee.

“You have to do some soul searching and figure out what it is you want to do and then tailor all your volunteer work to filling the tool box with those skills,” says Mary Marino, founder of EmployementPipeline.com. “This market is very competitive so getting more skills and more experience is going to help.” Let’s say your chosen field is accounting but you want to move into advertising and marketing. Instead of offering to balance the budget, ask to work in the advertising department.

Strategically Find Volunteer Work

Once you’ve figured out what you want to do as a volunteer, the next step is to find a company to give your time to. That will require research on the internet and a bit of cold calling of non-profits and for-profit companies. Don’t focus only on the large ones. Chances are there are a lot of small organizations in your neighborhood that would welcome the help. It also pays to align yourself with a cause you care about. It will make the volunteer work more rewarding if it’s something you feel passionate about. “Even in a volunteer work setting you are selling yourself,” says Nicole Williams, a career expert and connection director at LinkedIn. “There are a lot of qualified people looking to volunteer. This isn’t a secret.”

The holy grail of volunteering would be to serve on the board of a non-profit as an unpaid member. It’s an ideal way to network since typically the people on the board are well connected in the community. But not just everyone will be able to pull this off. According to Heather Krasna, author and career coach and you’ll need to be a lawyer, accountant of have specific skills the non-profit is looking for.

Include It on Your Resume

After you’ve landed your volunteer job it’s important to list it on your resume and profile it on your professional networks like LinkedIn. These days hiring managers consider volunteering as legitimate work experience. What’s more, it shows you’re not just sitting around, but are out there trying to keep your skills fresh. Don’t pretend it was a paying job but do make sure to highlight the expertise you gleaned and honed from the volunteering experience. “Employers don’t care if you were paid. If the work is substantial then its work,” says Krasna.

Check out the latest Career Insider eNewsletter - January 19, 2012.

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