Why Volunteer If It Doesn’t Lead Directly to a Job?

When you’re out of work, it’s often hard to think about anything else other than finally getting a real live job – and pay check. So when websites like mine extol the value of volunteering during your job search, sometimes the advice falls with a dull thud.

I get that. Volunteer? Just get me some actual work that pays!!!

But there are plenty of good reasons to at least think about volunteering (at least part time), and they all relate to your job search one way or another…even if it’s sometimes hard to connect the dots.

Direct reasons for volunteering

  • You  might wind up being hired by the company.
  • You might wind up gaining a skill that leads you to a real paying job.
  • Gives you something to do while waiting.

Less obvious reasons for volunteering

  • Networking. You might wind up meeting someone who knows someone who gets you to a paying job. (I once struck up a conversation with a non-profit’s Board member who knew of an opening in a field I was looking to get into. And I got the job.)
  • You might discover an interest or type of work you never knew existed – and find out you’re good at it.
  • Your job search energy gets low when all you hear is no. (Rhyme unintentional.) Doing something to help others changes the energy you project – and that shows in interviews!
  • You now have something to talk about in your interview that explains what you’ve been doing with your time – and shows you’re someone who doesn’t just sit around but instead rolls up your sleeves and pitches in. It’s a quality companies look for. There are down times in the workplace; how you handle being out of work can reflect on the type of worker you are.  (Personal projects like skill-building, writing a book, dong freelance work, etc. also add to the can-do picture.)
  • And most of all…you feel better about yourself. And this shows too, both in your networking (when you are trying to enlist people in your quest to get a job) and in the actual interview process. When you feel good about who you are and what you have to offer, successful people connect to that.

But I can’t find any volunteer opportunities!

I’ve heard from readers that they understand the importance of volunteering, but they tell me nowadays so many people are doing it while waiting for the economy to recover or for their old jobs to come back, that there just aren’t any openings.

It’s true that non-profits or other such organizations need to be able to manage their volunteers – and often more volunteers are just too much to manage. Plus, each organization usually decides which jobs volunteers can take on and which ones they can’t. So there is a limited number of volunteers each organization can handle.

But openings happen and just because there is nothing now doesn’t mean there won’t be something later on, when you could still benefit from the volunteer work.  So when you contact them, if the answer is no, send a nice handwritten card with your contact info and say you would still like to help if an opening arises. If you stay positive and show them how much you want to help, you may get a nice surprise. (Of course, don’t stop at just one.)

My own no-into-yes story

Although it’s slightly different, when I wanted to get into talent agency work a while back, despite my extensive experience in other fields and my being much older than people they hire for what in effect is an entry-level job, I sent a letter to about 30 New York City agencies using the theatrical resource called the Ross Reports (now Call Sheet). And I got turned down by every single one.

But in my mind, I was determined to get in no matter how long it took. So I wrote back thanking each agency and asking them to keep me in mind. And one day I got a call from one of the biggest agencies in its field asking if I’d temp for only one day, since their receptionist was going to be out. I didn’t hesitate. Just said yes. You never know where something like that can lead. And two weeks later I was working for them as the assistant to the president of the company.

What works for job search can work for volunteering. 😉

And of course networking helps here as well as in job search. Maybe someone you know knows someone at one of these places.  Or you can ask a local politician or community representative; they may know of organizations you don’t. And even in a world where lots of folks are volunteering, hospitals, libraries, community groups, after-school programs often needs tutors or just someone to read to a child or older person. Or someone to just open the mail or answer phones. It’s all good!

I might as well be looking for a job!

Are any of you thinking that’s a lot of work just to get an unpaid volunteer job?  So what? It’s worth it. Sometimes, of course, you can find some interesting volunteer work fairly easily. But if not…as long as you keep doing your regular job search (and borrowing some of these techniques may help), what have you got to lose? You can watch Judge Judy in reruns or on Hulu.

And…here’s a secret I am telling only YOU. During this search you may actually connect to someone who knows of a paid job who gets caught up in what you want to make happen for yourself and what a nice person you are. Even if they don’t know of anything right this minute, if you’ve left a positive impression, you may get a call. It’s happened to me.

So don’t forget to mention that you’re doing this while looking for an actual job. (Engaging them in your whole story.) And always have some spare resumes handy and a card with your contact info that makes it easy for them to find you again. (You can get a bunch of cards made for about $25 and use them for your job search networking as well.)

Some final thoughts on volunteering

While I know first-hand that volunteering can have its challenges, I have always walked away from a volunteer experience having gained something. A new connection. A new skill. A new friend. A feeling of personal satisfaction. Added bonus? These shared volunteer experiences are memorable. Years later, someone you met may open a door for you to a new job…or vice versa.

It’s all potentially connected if you approach your career as a continuing story and not just a series of isolated chapters.  😉

Would love to hear your own volunteer experiences. And if this inspires you to go out and get yourself some part-time volunteer work, please tell us about it!

Some Work Coach Cafe networking articles


About the author…

Ronnie Ann, founder of Work Coach Cafe, bases her real-world advice on her many years as an organizational consultant where she helped interview and hire people, added to a certificate from NYU in Career Planning & Development and her own adventures as a serial job seeker. She can also be found on her new blog, and on Google+.

Comments

  1. With the first 15 years of my career being in nonprofit (half of it as a volunteer manager), I am an avid fan of volunteering during a job hunt and recommend it to my clients all the time!

    You brought up that people can’t find an opportunity. Here are two of the best that I used all the time to find volunteers:

    -VolunteerMatch.org — a searchable database of nonprofits across the US

    -United Way agencies — some of the local United Ways have volunteer centers as part of the services they offer the community; they would also have information on volunteer opportunities

    Volunteering is a GREAT way to expand your circle beyond your normal network. You never know who you will meet who may work at a target company (or know someone who works at that target company)!

  2. I agree with volunteering. I’ve been looking for a job for….37 months. Yes. That long. But I think beyond it leading to a possible job, which it hasn’t in my case, volunteering makes you feel better about yourself. It also helps with developing skills since you can volunteer services to the organization.

  3. Thanks Melissa! You always add such great information. Really appreciate the resources you mention…especially coming from someone with your direct experience.

    Nicely said Thomas. Thank you so much for adding a voice of experience. My fingers are crossed about that job. Would love to know when it comes through. May even ask if you’d share some words in a post. People lose hope and yet I know from my own experience, the solution eventually comes. Best of luck!!

    ~ Ronnie Ann

  4. That is some good advice.. Thank you. Susan

  5. Thanks, Susan. Glad you found the post and comments useful. I wish you much luck in your own career!

  6. I am starting a volunteering position with sova, my role would be mentoring ex offending males with personality disorders and reintegrating them into society. I wonder how likely it will be that they might decide to offer me a job! I am studying BA Criminology.. So working within something related to my degree would be really desirable to me. I mean, I know so many people who have studies law, sociology and they have completely different jobs (primrk, other retail stores) .

    • chandlee says:

      Zoe,

      Good luck with the volunteer position and keep us posted. It sounds like you will be working in a potentially challenging situation, don’t be afraid to seek out help for yourself if you have need of it.

      All the Best,
      Chandlee

    • chandlee says:

      Zoe,

      Good luck with your new volunteer position. If they don’t have any openings and you are getting positive feedback, ask them if they can give you recommendations on other places you might apply.

      All the Best,
      Chandlee

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