TAO Self-help

Title:Volunteering for Job Search Success

Author:Susan P. Joyce, © 2016 All rights reserved

Date:November 2015


If you do quality work in a role that is related in some way to what you want to do as a job, volunteering can be very helpful for your job search and career in many ways.

How Volunteering Benefits Your Job Search

You help an organization or cause which you support, and...

  • Expand your network to include not only the people in the organization you support but, potentially, also people in affiliated organizations, competing organizations, and, possibly, the people the organization serves.
  • Gain new skills and/or improve the skills you have.
  • Build your professional visibility in your field.
  • Build your confidence, and remind yourself how good you are at what you do, which is essential if you are currently unemployed.
  • Fill an "employment gap" on your resume if you are unemployed.
  • Get out of your home and away from your computer.

You may even conclude that being employed by a nonprofit is where you can find the most satisfying work. All the benefits above help with a nonprofit job search.

Choose the Best Opportunity for Your Job Search

Be careful choosing the organization and the role within that organization. Volunteer for an organization or a charity which is a nonprofit or not-for-profit. As much as possible, choose an organization with a mission you can support unconditionally.

Look for a role in that organization which:

  • Is closely related to your career and the job you are seeking.
  • Demonstrates your commitment to your profession.
  • Offers the opportunity to build your skills and/or proves that your skills are current.
  • Adds new experience and accomplishments for your resumes and LinkedIn Profile.
  • Enables you to learn more about your field.
  • Adds to your professional reputation including recommendations and references, as well as your LinkedIn Skills and Endorsements and recommendations.

When the organization and the role are a good fit, the benefits are substantial, particularly when you are unemployed.

Double-check that the organization is a genuine nonprofit. In the USA, you can search through the IRS database of "exempt organizations" (a.k.a. charities) here: Exempt Organizations Select Check. Plug the organization's official name into the "Name" block, and click the search button.

Demonstrate the High Quality of Your Work

Since you aren't being paid, it's easy to feel less committed to the organization and the work. But, that's a mistake for many reasons.

Think of your volunteering efforts as more than just a way to have something to put in LinkedIn and your resume to take up space. Like your visibility in social media, your volunteering is an example of your work — your quality as an employee, even though you aren't being paid for your volunteering. In many ways, volunteering is an audition, and needs your best efforts.

How to Make Your Volunteer Experience Most Helpful for Your Job Search

Focus on being the best volunteer you can be!

  1. Choose a good fit for your target job/industry/profession and your personalvalues.

    If you don't believe in the cause, you'll have a difficult time demonstrating enthusiasm for what you have done for them. That will show up in job interviews and in your other public visibility (like your LinkedIn Profile).

    If you wouldn't continue to support the organization after you find a job, don't support it while you are unemployed.

  2. Show up when you are expected to be there.

    Don't make a commitment you can't keep. Being undependable, even as an unpaid volunteer, will hurt your reputation. You will be seen as untrustworthy. Not good for you.

  3. Keep your commitments.

    This fits with number 2. As inspired and committed as you may be to the mission of the organization, don't agree to do more things or contribute more hours of work if you know you can't handle the commitment. You will be hurting the organization and your own reputation.

  4. Be honest.

    If you really don't know how to use QuickBooks, don't claim that you do. You can offer to learn it (on your own time or with help from another volunteer) especially if it's a skill you would like to add to your work experience. Make it clear that the task would be a "learning experience" for you when asked to do something you don't know how to do.

  5. Be easy to work with.

    Do your work as professionally as possible, but be cooperative with management and other volunteers. Accept management suggestions as you would in a "real" job, and treat your co-workers with the respect you normally have for co-workers at work. Follow the organization's process and standards. If those standards or processes need improvement, tactfully offer suggestions to make them better. Leave if you feel the organization is too "non-standard" to be acceptable, but don't trash the organization publicly either before or after you leave.

    Finally, don't forget to have fun and enjoy your volunteering experience

Make Your Volunteering Visible

Describe it accurately on your LinkedIn Profile. If you are employed, add it to the volunteering section of your Profile, describing the organization as well as the job performed. Describe the accomplishments, focused on those that are relevant to your career.

If you are unemployed, include your volunteering experience in the Work Experience section of your Profile.

When something you have done or learned is relevant to a job you are seeking, include the relevant description in your resume or job application.


More About Volunteering

Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. Susan is a two-time layoff "graduate" who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. In 2011, NETability purchased WorkCoachCafe.com, and Susan has been editor and publisher of WorkCoach since then. Susan also edits and publishes Job-Hunt.org, is a Visiting Scholar at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and a columnist on HuffingtonPost. Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on Google+.

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