Need a Job? Volunteer!
by C.S. Clarke, Ph.D.
Having trouble getting a job? Find a good, related volunteer opportunity!
Now, lest you feel that this is a cynical way to treat volunteerism, which is generally considered charitable and/or altruistic, let me explain that the practice is well-known and well-accepted in both the profit and non-profit sectors. Indeed, in some fields it is almost required! When I was in graduate school, most schools required a "professional experience" component to supplement the educational experience and many students had to get that experience through unpaid volunteer work in clinical settings. My particular school also insisted upon having volunteer experience of some kind on one's résumé. And again, after I had a Ph.D., I needed to complete a 3000 hour "internship" in order to become licensed. For most psychologists, that means we have to volunteer for various organizations to get enough hours of supervised experience. (And it takes 2 years.)
It is an old, old practice to trade unpaid labor for experience, training and contacts. And that holds true in countless types of work.
So, if you are out of work and having no good luck finding a new position, becoming a volunteer can provide a number of great benefits. Here are a few.
1. You do something valuable and raise your self esteem and confidence. Being unemployed is depressing and zaps your pride, motivation and sense of worth. You need to believe you make a difference in the world. The longer you are unemployed the more helpless you feel. Helping others restores a confident, worthy self. If you believe you are worthwhile and competent, so will potential employers and referrers.
2. You may gain more experience to add to your résumé. Work is work, paid or not. You can list it on your résumé and it can fill in the gaps in your employment history. Would you rather list six months of unemployment or six months of volunteering for hospice?
3. You almost certainly will make contacts that build and strengthen your network. People who volunteer are generally caring, helpful folks. Many are the kind of people you want to know personally. And a whole raft are people you might not get to know professionally any other way. Since they are such helpful and caring people, you're bound to run into someone who can give you a job lead or referral. Not to mention that you may make friends that you'll treasure for a lifetime.
4. You may improve your people skills. Most volunteer positions are for helping others in one way or another. For example, accountants often volunteer to help seniors with their income tax returns. In doing so, the accountants teach, counsel and allay fears and anxieties. So their service enables them to practice kindness, patience and communications skills. If they spend most of their usual workplace time behind computers rather than working with clients, they may not often get the chance to perform those skills.
5. It can give you training that you need -- for free. If you don't know how to do something that is important to developing your career, or you don't have enough experience to get a job in the field you desire, volunteering can help you get what you need. A contractor I know told me about a young man who did this unintentionally. He was a computer programmer who volunteered to build houses for the disadvantaged. He ended up becoming a licensed contractor and builder. His business is doing very well.
6. It gives you "brownie points" on your résumé. Many, many employers are impressed with charitableness and volunteerism. Not only does it say good things about your character, but it shows that you are a good candidate to be part of a team working toward a common goal. That you can work with diverse others for the good of the company rather than merely advancing your own position. It says that you are a giver rather than a taker. And employers want employees who will give of themselves, not just work for a paycheck.
7. The very organization in which you volunteer may give you a paid job. (Or may refer you for a job in another non-profit or other organization.) If you are good at what you do and have shown your willingness to give, many non-profits are looking to employ you.
8. If you are changing fields of work or just out of college, it gives you an introduction to and experience in an area that you might not otherwise be able to get. Also, some professions are so closed and jobs are so few that this may be your one chance to meet the people involved and show them your abilities.
There are many ways volunteering can help your career and employment. But keep this in mind: there are numberless other ways it will help you to simple become a better person. No matter why you do it, you'll reap rewards far beyond anything you could have received in mere money. To find opportunities to get started, search "volunteer organizations" in Google or your other favorite search engine.