When it comes to searching for a new job, almost everyone thinks about building a résumé and LinkedIn profile, networking in person and online and responding to advertised positions. Of course, these are all critical elements of your job hunt.
There is another, less obvious thing you should be doing: volunteering for an organization, group or cause in which you believe. Here's why:
1. Volunteering can multiply your networking opportunities. You will come in contact with people you've never met, and yet you'll immediately have something in common with them. As you build personal relationships, there will be a natural inclination to share information about your individual circumstances and aspirations. You may well be surprised to learn who else your newfound friend knows, or ways in which you may be able and willing to help each other.
2. Volunteering provides opportunities for you to use your skills and gain new ones. When you align your volunteer activities with the things you normally do in the workplace, you can apply your talents in new areas. This can prevent you from becoming rusty -- especially if you're unemployed. And when you take on new challenges, you will have the ability to turn your weaknesses into strengths as you build new skills and gain experience.
3. Volunteering can help build your résumé . If you are employed, your résumé should have a section toward the bottom titled "Volunteer Activities." If you are unemployed, and you volunteer at a given organization for a reasonable number of hours per week or month, it is fair to put that organization at the top of your "Professional Experience" section. Your job title can include the word "volunteer" to make clear what you do and that your compensation is nonmonetary. For example: "Volunteer Webmaster" and "Volunteer Bookkeeper."
4. Volunteering can defeat your sense of isolation. If you are like many others, the need to get a job -- and therefore the search itself -- can come to dominate your life. If you are new to a community, the sense of not knowing anyone, or not knowing your way around (literally and figuratively) can be overpowering. Plus, money can be scarce, particularly if you're unemployed and searching, and you may pull back from many of your normal activities. If you've been job hunting for a long period of time, you may feel that you've exhausted your normal set of contacts, your mood may darken and you may feel isolated and depressed. Whatever the reason is that you find yourself at home alone all day, by volunteering some of your time, you will have a place to go and an opportunity to cast off your sense of overwhelming isolation.
5. Volunteering says something positive about you as a person. When you volunteer, you project yourself as someone concerned with a cause greater than your own personal needs. You are seen to be a person who gives back to your community, profession or cause. And, most of all, you are seen as a person who goes above and beyond what is required of you. If you are unemployed, your volunteer activities can show you aren't just vegetating. Instead, those activities become the answer to the question, "What have you been doing since you lost your job?" These traits are all highly valued by employers.
6. Volunteering enables you to make a difference in the lives of others. Our busy schedules rarely permit us to do what we'd like to further the work of the organizations or causes we care about. Yet when you take the time to volunteer, you impact the lives of so many people who are benefited by the group you serve. Your time and talent count!
7. Volunteering can lead to full-time work at the place where you've demonstrated your skills and commitment. As a volunteer in an organization, you get to know who's who and what's what. You can develop a relationship with the leaders and staff, and you are often among the first to know of -- and be considered for -- paid opportunities as they arise. After all, when your work and commitment to the cause are known and respected, what else does a hiring authority have to know before thinking of you as that ideal "fit" candidate?
It's worth seriously thinking about what you want to do and what volunteer opportunities are available to you. Consider how you can align your volunteer work with your "real" work activities. When looking for options, it is worth searching these sites:
-- VolunteerMatch (volunteermatch.org): This site asks you about areas in which you are interested, such as advocacy and human rights, animals, arts and culture and more. Enter your city and state, and the site will provide a list of volunteering opportunities that are relevant to you.
-- LinkedIn (volunteer.linkedin.com): In addition to listing networking opportunities and job posts, LinkedIn also displays volunteer opportunities. In the advanced search, you can simply fill in your zip code and specify a geographic radius within which you are willing to travel.
-- Idealist (idealist.org): This is an excellent site for the nonprofit community for both paid and volunteer activities. You input keywords for things you might be interested in, such as teaching, arts or computer aided design. For location, you can enter your metro area, supply your city and state or give your zip code.
-- SimplyHired (simplyhired.com): This site aggregates both jobs and volunteer opportunities from all over the internet. For the keywords, simply enter "volunteer jobs," and then fill in your location. Once again, a variety opportunities will present themselves.
Arnie Fertig, MPA, is passionate about helping his Jobhuntercoach clients advance their careers by transforming frantic "I'll apply to anything" searches into focused hunts for "great fit" opportunities. He brings to each client the extensive knowledge he gained when working in HR staffing and managing his boutique recruiting firm.
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