Some people start volunteering because they are passionate about a cause or even because they have been downsized and have free time to fill. Michael Burke, of Baltimore started volunteering because he got arthritis. He had been a working chef for almost 20 years but his arthritis now made it difficult to stand for the requisite long shifts. He knew he needed to leave this career behind. When a friend mentioned that an organization, Experience Corps, was looking for volunteers to tutor and mentor elementary school children, it was just the change that he needed and he jumped at it. “I had always had a passion for changing kid’s lives,” says, Burke. “This gave me the opportunity to do it on a consistent, more structured basis.” He even started volunteering in the Experience Corps office. After three years, he was offered a paid position with Experience Corps. Volunteering was “the best training I could have had for a new career,” Burke says.
Keith Limbach had been working for nearly 26 years in IT, most recently as a Vice President when he found himself out of a job. He knew that it wouldn’t be easy to find an executive job in a tough economy, particularly as he wanted to change fields and wasn’t interested in relocating. He hoped that
the completion of a board development program called BOLD offered by United Way of Greater Cincinnati would help him to ultimately be considered a better job candidate. He completed the program and was selected to serve on the board at Redwood School and Rehabilitation Center, a center that guides children and adults with severe disabilities. Given his IT background, he also served as a member of Redwood’s Technology Committee. Limbach believes this experience “demonstrated to the employer that hired me that I welcome leadership roles and challenges, am able to balance opportunities both inside and outside of work, and that giving back to the community is important to me—a value that many companies take very seriously themselves.”
While many people volunteer purely for the sake of helping others, for many, like Michael Burke and Keith Limbach, volunteering can also lead to finding a new paying job. If you are wondering about how volunteering can do that and how to find the right volunteer position, this article, in two parts, will help to answer your questions. Let’s begin with the eight top reasons a volunteer position can help you find a job.
1) You Acquire New Skills. Volunteering provides the perfect opportunity to learn a new, transferable skill. Diane Rehm, the very popular radio talk show host who is heard by millions of listeners every week, was a stay at home mom who started her illustrious career as a volunteer at WAMU, the public radio station. After volunteering for many months on a talk show, she had acquired the skill she needed to be hired in a paid position. Today, that talk show is called The Diane Rehm Show. Diane explains how she started, “I just jumped in as a volunteer on Irma’s radio program. I was reading the newspapers constantly thinking about topics we could do. I put together the topic and got to be in studio with Irma for the program, asking the questions, and participating. I literally learned on the job. Irma taught me how to cut tape, what a good program feels like by her example – you want role models and examples – Irma became that for me.”
2) Volunteering updates your resume if have been out of the workforce. Some employers give preference to candidates who are currently employed. So the longer a person has been out of the workforce, the harder it can be to get a job. Discrimination against unemployed applicants has even grown significant enough to cause members of Congress to introduce legislation to forbid it. So, having a volunteer position on your resume under current employment may just be the difference between a resume that’s tossed and one that gets a second look. And it’s not necessary to mention that the job is unpaid. (Of course if you are asked, never lie). Also the right volunteer position on your resume shows an employer that you are keeping current in that field.
3) You Make New Contacts-Many jobs today are obtained through someone you know, so any chance to expand your network - particularly into new areas or environments- is a plus. Don’t overlook the influential community people that serve on boards with you. Kathy Buckley, Director of United Way of Greater Cincinnati’s Volunteer Connection (which connects people to volunteer opportunities including serving on boards), and the person who connected Keith Limbach to Redwood, says that “a definite benefit of board service is that the people you serve with, particularly once they are impressed with your passion for the cause and professionalism on the board, can introduce you to many people you wouldn’t otherwise meet.”
4) Get a feel for today’s work environment. Marci Alboher, Vice President of Civic Ventures, a non-profit think tank on boomers, work and social purpose (www.encore.org), believes that volunteering is a great way to learn how workplaces operate today which can be helpful, particularly if you have been out of work for a while. She says “If you take on a serious volunteer role, you get a chance to experience what’s expected of you in today’s business climate and can get used to working with younger people. That's great practice for re-entering the workplace, where you might find yourself working with and for people young enough to be your children."
5) Your self- confidence will increase. A person who has been out of workforce for a significant period of time may not have a great self- image. Volunteering to help others less fortunate can help you to feel better about yourself. Additionally, functioning at a high level in a volunteer work environment increases your confidence level. Keith Limbach certainly felt that as he says “volunteering provides you with a confidence that you can be successful again, even after leaving a long career with a single company.”
6) You gain an in depth knowledge about a specific cause. Neil Tilow, the President of Talbert House, a very large social service agency with over 900 employees, in speaking about job candidates says “If I have to choose between two equally qualified candidates, and one of them has shown a real passion for our cause through volunteer work in the field, I will absolutely choose that candidate.”
7) You show that you are a caring and productive person. Non- profit organizations, which are obviously mission driven, want employees with core beliefs that match theirs. By volunteering in a significant way, you show organizations that you value giving back. Keith Limbach adds “I found that prospective employers are very interested in those who make the most productive use of the time that they are out of work.”
8) Your LinkedIn Profile is improved. Networking is essential to find a job in today’s tough economy. One tool for networking that can’t be overlooked is LinkedIn, the online business networking site. Adding volunteer positions to your LinkedIn profile provides two advantages 1) it allows you to “link” to and thereby connect with anyone affiliated with those organizations without needing to know their emails and 2) it makes your profile appear more robust.
In part two of this article, I will discuss how to find the right volunteer position.
Written by: Julie Shifman, President of Act Three and Keynote speaker
Author of the soon to be released book Act Three: Creating the Life You Want After your First Career and Fulltime Motherhood