August 15, 2012
Three ways volunteering can help land your dream job
We've all heard them before -- the long list of steps that job seekers are supposed to take in order to get their resume looked at, much less get themselves in front of a hiring manager. Often those tips are really valuable, but they can also seem overwhelming, sometimes counterintuitive, and even questionable in terms of the effort-to-benefit ratio.
Yet there is one recommendation we hear again and again that should not be overlooked. It is arguably more important than networking and can definitely give you better bang for your buck than going back for that advanced business degree. This is true especially if you are trying to break into a new industry, are angling for a slightly different type of job than you've held before, or if you have some job searcher's Achilles-heel factor such as a long employment gap.
The action is volunteering.
Recently I was talking to my neighbor, who had been working for years as a preschool teacher. For various reasons she wanted to transition to a different career, and she had her sights set on a position at Children's Hospital. But she couldn't quite get her foot in the door for a full-time job.
So my neighbor began to volunteer with the hospital, in a role where she was assisting those doing the type of job she ultimately wanted. She was able to learn more about the industry and organization, and she got to know the people who would have influence in hiring or could make recommendations.
She volunteered for two years.
Long time, right? During this time she continued to earn income elsewhere. But did she get annoyed that her volunteer stint went on so long? That she was working without pay (sure, that's the definition of volunteering, but suddenly when you're actually logging those hours your ego might not compute the lack of paycheck)? No. Eventually, she got a great job, nearly the one she wanted.
Here are three reasons you should volunteer in order to land a job:
1. You're at the center of the networking world. It's like going to the center of the Earth. It's where all the heat is. When you join an organization of people doing the work you want to be doing in the industry you want to be in, you are no longer a sad loner outside in the cold, pressing your nose to the window. You're in!
Now you have to use that to your advantage. Get to know everyone you can in the organization. Buy coffees, listen in on training sessions. Make yourself useful and known. Impress people with your skills, hard work and positive attitude. Those connections are going to help you.
2. You gain experience. Maybe a gap in employment or an experience shortfall is what's harming your employability. Volunteering is a way to gain work experience in the field you're targeting. Use this to your advantage.
Don't just settle for paper-pushing as a volunteer; do the work that is needed/asked of you, sure, but also identify the tasks you want experience with and request to work on those. Don't be afraid to ask to try anything. Document all the projects you do, the systems and skills you learn and the experience you gain, and then add that to your resume.
3. You can bolster your confidence. Job searching, especially in an unforgiving market, can do a number on a person's morale. Being isolated and unemployed allows job seekers to stew in their own misery, and it's easy to lose perspective.
Though you aren't being paid, you could very well become a highly valued addition to an organization as a volunteer. This can boost your confidence and remind you what it's like to be part of something larger. Then you can use that newfound energy to land a paying gig.
Before you run out and sign up to serve meals at a nursing home, though, heed this: Pick your volunteer job carefully. Be selective and strategic. Make sure there's a clear connection between the job(s) you choose and the ultimate work you want to be hired for.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
Paul Anderson helps professionals in transition find their desired employment.
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