When you’re out of work, it’s often hard to think about anything else other than finally getting a real live job — and a paycheck. So when websites like mine talk about the value of volunteering during job search, sometimes the advice falls with a dull thud.
I can understand that reaction. Volunteer? Are you kidding me? Just get me to some actual work that pays and has benefits!
But there are many good reasons to at least think about volunteering during job search, even part time. And there are many ways it can relate to your job search … even if it’s hard to connect the dots at first.
Direct reasons for volunteering during job search
- You might wind up being hired by the company.
- You might wind up gaining a skill that leads to a real paying job.
- Gives you something to do and helps you stay sane while waiting.
Less obvious reasons for volunteering
- Networking. You might wind up meeting someone who knows someone who gets you to a paying job. (I once struck up a conversation with a non-profit’s Board member who knew of an opening in a field I was looking to get into. And I got the job.)
- You might discover an interest or type of work you never knew existed — and find out you’re good at it.
- Your job search energy gets low when all you hear is no. Doing something to help other people changes the energy you project — and that shows in interviews!
- You now have something to talk about in your interview that explains what you’ve been doing with your time. And it can show that you’re someone who doesn’t just sit around, but instead rolls up your sleeves and pitches in.
- It’s a quality companies look for. There are down times in the workplace. How you handle being out of work can reflect on the type of worker you are. (Personal projects like skill-building, writing a book, dong freelance work, etc. also add to the “can-do person” picture.)
- And most of all … you feel better about yourself. And this shows too. Both in your networking (when you are trying to enlist people in your quest to get a job) and in the actual interview process. When you feel good about who you are and what you have to offer, people connect to that.
But I can’t find any volunteer opportunities!
I’ve heard from readers that they understand the importance of volunteering. But they tell me nowadays so many people are doing it while waiting for the economy to recover or for their old jobs to come back, that there just aren’t any openings.
It’s true that non-profits or other such organizations need to be able to manage their volunteers — and often more volunteers are just too much to manage. Plus, each organization usually decides which jobs volunteers can take on and which ones they can’t. So there is a limited number of volunteers each organization can handle.
But openings do happen. And just because there is nothing now doesn’t mean there won’t be something later on, when you could still benefit from the volunteer work.
So when you contact them, if the answer is no, send a nice handwritten card with your contact info and say you would still like to help if an opening arises. If you stay positive and show them how much you want to help, you may get a nice surprise. (Of course, don’t stop at just one.)
My own no turns into into YES story
Although it’s not exactly a volunteer story, I once wanted to get into talent agency work. Despite extensive experience in other fields and my being older than people they usually hire (for what in effect is an entry-level job), I sent a letter to about 30 New York City agencies. And I got turned down by every single one of them.
But I was determined to get in no matter how long it took. So I wrote back thanking each agency and asking them to keep me in mind. And one day I got a call from one of the biggest agencies in its field asking if I’d temp for only one day, since their receptionist was going to be out.
Well, I didn’t hesitate for even one second. Just said yes. You never know where something like that can lead. And two weeks later I was working for them as the assistant to the president of the company.
What works for job search can work for volunteering. 😉
And don’t forget the power of networking
Networking can help here as well as in job search. Maybe someone you know knows someone at one of these places. Or you can ask a local politician or community representative. They may know of organizations you don’t.
And even in a world where lots of folks are volunteering, hospitals, libraries, community groups, after-school programs often needs tutors or someone to read to a child or older person. Or someone to just open the mail or answer phones. It’s all good. There may even be virtual work, so don’t let that stand in your way!
I might as well be looking for a job!
Are any of you thinking that’s a lot of work just to get an unpaid volunteer job? So what? It’s worth it. Sometimes, of course, you can find some interesting volunteer work fairly easily. But if not .. .as long as you keep doing your regular job search (and borrowing some of these techniques may help), what have you got to lose by volunteering during job search? You can watch Judge Judy in reruns or on Hulu.
And … here’s a secret I am telling only YOU. During this search you may actually connect to someone who knows of a paid job who gets caught up in what you want to make happen for yourself — and what a nice person you are. Even if they don’t know of anything right this minute, if you’ve left a positive impression, you may get a call one day. It’s happened to me.
So don’t forget to mention that you’re doing this while looking for an actual job. (Engaging them in your whole story.) And always have some spare resumes handy and a card with your contact info that makes it easy for them to find you again. (You can get a bunch of cards made for about $25 and use them for your job search networking as well. There are even virtual cards!)
Some final thoughts on volunteering
While I know first-hand that volunteering can have its challenges, I always walked away from a volunteer experience having gained something. New connections. A new skill. Maybe a new friend. And a feeling of personal satisfaction.
Added bonus? These shared volunteer experiences are memorable. Years later, someone you met while volunteering during job search may open a door for you to a new job. Or vice versa, since the best networking is a two-way street.
It’s all potentially connected if you approach your career as a continuing story and not just a series of isolated chapters. And volunteering, even if you don’t love it, can make a very interesting chapter.
[Post updated in 2020]
About the author…
Ronnie Ann, founder of Work To the Wise and Work Coach Cafe, bases her real-world advice on her many years as an organizational consultant where she helped interview and hire people, added to a certificate from NYU in Career Planning & Development, as well as her many adventures as a serial job seeker.
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