5 Ways Volunteering Can Help You Get a Job

5 Ways Volunteering Can Help You Get a Job
by Karen Schneider
Photos Joe Kathrina | October 03, 2016
After realizing that her career wasn't what she wanted, one writer explains how volunteering changed her job hunt game. 
Earlier this year, I found myself in a pretty major career slump and decided it was time to make a move—and a career change. I set out to discover the best way to situate myself to do just that and dove headfirst into educating myself as much as I could on professional personal branding. My experience has encompassed many industries and job titles, and I have accumulated a broad skillset as a result. After assessing what I wanted to pursue, I decided to search for jobs that could help me make the career transition I was seeking.

As I perused job ads during my search, I discovered what I was sure was my dream job—until I reviewed the required qualifications:

"Must have 2-5 years of experience, with demonstrated ability to drive results in a fast-paced startup environment."

"Please include links to work samples/links to social media/marketing campaigns."

Some ads requested skills I had never even touched on:

"Preferred candidate will have basic knowledge of HTML and CSS." (What part of this is basic?) 

The above scenario played out, over and over again, leaving me a frustrated—and disillusioned—job seeker. 

At the time, all I saw was a giant roadblock in front of me. I had most of the skills and knowledge required for these positions but lacked on-the-job experience in the official capacity; my personal branding strategy was left limp. 

Knock, knock. Who's there? Impostor Syndrome. I admit, I felt it. I contemplated giving up and reconsidering my path, but that just didn't seem like a viable option for me. Instead, I sat down and mapped out my next move.
Find a cause that both caters to your interests and builds your skills. Leverage that experience for when you want to make your next move.

I decided to take this perceived job search roadblock and turn it into an opportunity

As I continued my job search, I discovered a post on LinkedIn (through VolunteerMatch.org / LinkedIn for Good) for a volunteer position for a local arts nonprofit in need of a PR and social media marketing strategist. Initially, I almost scrolled past the ad as I had never before volunteered, but at second glance, I realized the answer to my dilemma was staring back at me from behind that computer screen. 

Career Contessa mentor, Leila Hock, advises, "Volunteering can be a boon to your career in a number of ways. First, if you're not happy with your current career path, a well thought out volunteer role can give you an opportunity to test the waters for a new position or industry."

Volunteer experience was exactly what my resume—and personal brand strategy—needed.

I responded to the ad, interviewed, and landed it. Fast forward six months, and I'm in a new position that not only utilizes my previous skill set but provides the opportunity to grow into my desired role; in just a short period of time, I was able to reap the professional benefits of donating my time.

5 ways that volunteering will help prepare you for your next job

1. Volunteering Provides Job Experience and Training You Might Not Gain Elsewhere

While there are instances where employers will take a chance and welcome the less experienced but passionate candidate on their team, the reality is that experience is often the deciding factor; a bad hiring decision can cost an employer thousands of dollars, causing major hesitation in making any missteps. And so, the double-edged sword presents itself: how does one go about obtaining experience if no one will give you the opportunity to showcase your talents? Donating your time to a worthy cause opens you up to experiences you might not encounter in your corporate position, and organizations that are grateful for the support are more likely to take a chance on those willing to put forth the effort to learn.

2. You Will Be a More Attractive Candidate to Potential Employers

Whether a college grad or a seasoned professional, highlighting volunteer experience on your resume can make you a more attractive candidate—and all around person. The transferrable skills you have obtained are vital to many roles across industries, and show your commitment to a cause—all unpaid. Elle Kaplan, CEO of LexION Capital Management—one of the only women owned and operated investment firms in the nation—agrees: "I know it always piques my interest when hiring at LexION Capital—not just for the charitable aspect, but because it helps you develop unique skills that wouldn't normally be found elsewhere."

3. Networking Opportunities Can Open Doors to Establish Relationships And Cement Future Career Success

Hock asserts "The biggest boost a volunteer opportunity can give you is that it allows you to meet new people and be exposed to new opportunities. Volunteering is a great way to get exposure to people you might not otherwise be able to meet, given level of experience or industry. If you've chosen a volunteer opportunity that is meaningful to you, then chances are you'll do a great job and those leading/volunteering with you will take notice and keep you top of mind if they or their team need support."

Effective networking can have a domino effect and put you into contact with professionals who can help to open doors of opportunity for you—both now and in the future. 

4. Volunteering Can Fill Resume Gaps Left by Unemployment—or Underemployment

Perhaps you left your job to explore other options, or your department suddenly downsized without warning. While you search for a new job, be sure to use your time wisely; your volunteer efforts will show employers you are motivated and diverse. You may even discover you really enjoy working with a specific cause or organization.

What if you’re still employed, but dislike your job?

“It's a great way to keep yourself distracted if you're in a job you're not happy with, but need to stay in it for longevity on your resume, pay or any other reason,” says Hock.

Find a cause that both caters to your interests and builds on your skills. Leverage that experience for when you want to make your next move.

5. Personal and Professional Fulfillment

Needless to say, it feels amazing to be able to not only learn new skills and broaden my professional horizons but be able to give back while doing so. My experience struck a balance between the two that felt almost serendipitous; as a writer and creative at heart, I have found deep fulfillment in volunteering for an organization that highlights and celebrates the arts and others like me. Added benefit? I picked up the professional street cred needed to land me my coveted new spot. 

Check out sites such as VolunteerMatch.org and Catchafire.org, which allow you to search by interests and geographic area for matching opportunities. You can research organizations and learn more about the opportunity and time investment involved. Catchafire.org is like Tinder for volunteers/organizations: you complete a profile, answer a short application, and schedule an interview with your desired organization. After the interview, you both will respond on whether you thought it was a match. Pretty easy—and it’s all free!

Any final words of advice?

Hock cautions, "If you do volunteer, be sure you do a good job. Even if it's not related to your expertise, how you show up at a volunteer role will prove how you'll show up at work. Only volunteer if you're ready to invest the time and energy required, and approach it with the same level of excellence you would approach your work."
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Interested in talking to Leila Hock yourself? You can book your own one-on-one counseling session with her for insight on your career.