Job Search: Four Ways Helping Others Helps You

When you’re out of work, it’s easy to get so caught up focusing on yourself and your very real need to find a job, that you wind up feeling trapped by your helplessness should that job not materialize right away.  And from there, it can be a downward spiral…especially as weeks turn into months and even longer.

This is not to say that you should for one minute forgo the essential job search basics like networking, improving and targeting your resume, applying for jobs you find on search engines as well as from other sources, continually researching new job possibilities, etc. No matter what else, this has to be a primary focus.

BUT  you also don’t want to stay locked up in your home just waiting for the phone to ring after you’ve done all you can on any given day!

So what should you do with the time?

The days pass quickly. Why not take advantage of time you’ll never get back? This is a great time to work on yourself. You can take up exercise, start a healthier eating plan, learn new skills, explore a new career, find places to freelance, start your own blog…or anything else that might add to your life.

But it’s also a great time to think about giving back by helping others.

“What!” I hear some of you thinking. “How can I help anyone when I don’t know where my next paycheck is coming from? I need to focus every minute on ME.”

Certainly if you need money ASAP walk, don’t run, to any job…no matter what you did before. You can think about your career better on a full stomach and with the  lights on. 😉

But if you’ve been doing all you can to look for work and have watched more than your fill of Judge Judy, maybe focusing only on you isn’t going to get you a job any faster.  And it may even slow down the process since you get caught in that so-so (same-old-same-old) rut.

So maybe…just maybe…you can shake things up by helping someone else.

That can mean volunteer work. If non-profits in your area don’t have anything for you, don’t forget to try hospitals, tutoring programs at libraries and community centers, soup kitchens, religious organizations, or even asking your local politicians for their help connecting you to a place that needs you.

And it can also mean finding a local business or even someone you know who needs help regardless of whether it moves your career forward even one step. The main idea is to think about their needs and throw yourself into it 100% without worrying “What’s in it for me?”

So What’s In It For Me?

If helping someone else in and of itself isn’t enough of a motivator, here are four reasons why it may actually be good for YOU:

  • Helps you feel better about yourself – Job search wears the best of us down – even to the point sometimes where we forget how good we are.  Helping others helps us feel useful and reminds us who we really are – and how much we have to offer. Plus it just feels good.
  • Projects positive energy – I sometimes get comments from people who simply don’t realize just how much their energy affects their job search – both in interviews and when networking.  Getting out and helping others changes your energy for the better – especially if you remember to just do it the best you can without noticing whether or not you’re getting enough back.
  • Gives you a story – When you’ve been unemployed for a while, your days can turn into copies of themselves. This gives you fresh material for interviews and maybe even provides a transferable skill to talk about!
  • Opens up contacts – Networking can happen when you least expect it. Do your best, have a great attitude, and you never know who you might connect with. I once helped a non-profit whose Board member was part of an agency I really wanted to work for. Through casual conversation (being friendly to everyone helps) he learned what I was interested in and got me an interview!

So please continue your job search with all you have to give, but also think about spending some time helping others. If the first place doesn’t feel right, try again. Sometimes the right fit doesn’t happen the first time.

And by the time you finally do get your real job, you may have found a whole new direction you never imagined. At the very least, you may find your smile again!


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+.


  1. I think this is a hard post to take, because no one wants to volunteer for free when they need a job, and the job search is truly a lonely one… however, I totally agree 🙂 with it.

  2. Thanks Lisa! I worried about writing it for just the reason you mention, and maybe for some people it’s not right…but I know there are others who this will speak to, and so this post is for them. I’ll write more soon for people who don’t find their answer here. 😉

    I wish you all the best, Lisa. Always enjoy your comments.

  3. Ronnie Ann, I’m a huge fan of volunteering while in transition. There’s a great deal about this experience that is marginalizing.

    Volunteering is a great way to reclaim some of that lost power.

  4. So well said, Ed. Thanks for dropping by. No one puts Baby in the corner – or marginalizes her! 😉

  5. I really enjoy your blog. 🙂

    Sadly, I’ve been out of work for over 2 years now, but I find great value in volunteering. That’s something I’ve done on and off throughout my life anyway. Funny, seems a lot of folks are taking that advice because ogranizations seem to have a lot of help! Initially, I couldn’t get arressted, but now I get a call from time to time and I’m happy to help out.

    Topic suggestion: An article on how to fill a 2 yr gap. Employers are not understanding of the economic situation. HR. just sees a gap and thinks it’s your fault. And since you are your last job, listing unresume worthy jobs is suicide. An article addressing that would really be helpful.

    Thank you!

    • Hi Grace!

      I’ve mentioned gaps here and there on various posts related to resumes and cover letters. Will try to devote time to that specifically when I can. Meanwhile, use a Skills Highlights or Professional Skills section before you get to your experience. This way you can help them see how your skills and experience match the job. Also use your cover letter to show the ways you match and then add a line about volunteering in the meantime to explain the gap – and show you are not just sitting at home. More and more companies know that people are out of work for longer times now. Some only look at employed people, but others get where you’re coming from. It’s your job to help them see it, and a good cover letter and resume (like I mentioned) can do that.

      Don’t for get to network at work and everywhere else, even supermarket lines! 😉

      Thanks for the kind words, Grace. Good luck!

  6. Hey Ronnie!

    Its been a long time..things have been very busy but still going well. I LOVE this post because it applies to me. During the year I spent out of work I definitely felt alone on an island even though my situation was not a unique one. However, my change in circumstances dictated that I approach how I handled my dealings with people; where in the past I would write a check to a charity as opposed to volunteer my time, or help a friend out with cash as opposed to taking something off of her plate when she was overwhelmed; I no longer had the financial resources to do so since my “savings” was now what I was living on while I waited for work.

    When I look back on that year, I found that I created more valuable friendships and got more joy by actually sowing into people’s lives through actual direct participation rather than writing a check. Additionally, taking a break from my own loneliness and frustration with my job search and helping someone address theirs was helpful and allowed me to return to my job search renewed. While my primary focus was still finding a job, the time I could take in doing something for someone else was a welcome distraction and definitely helped to keep me sane.

    Additionally and maybe more importantly, after getting my position and getting to know my new boss he expressed to me that one of the reasons why he was drawn to hire me was how I had handled my time off. He did ask me what I had done with my year off and I mentioned the things I had been doing which included traveling to a friend’s home in a different state to help her adjust to a new life after losing her husband unexpectedly, helping my cousin who was a new mother with childcare so she could finish an advanced degree, using my project management background to help a charity establish business processes and infrastructure so they could qualify for more government grants to keep some of their programs going, were the very things that helped to make his decision.

    He had asked the same question to the other candidates and he mentioned how they all replied that they were just focused on finding a job and that they seemed beaten. I’m not saying any of this to draw away from the excrutiatingly frustrating experience it is to find work in this current economic climate nor to sugar coat or be flippant about my experience but to say that finding outlets for your time that translate into something attractive to a potential employer are definitely valuable and you never know if that is the thing that puts you over the edge.

  7. Oh Ebony! What a great comment. And what a wonderful reminder for other job seekers. Thank you for sharing this.

    If it would be ok, may I use some of what you said for an upcoming post? It’s so important and could help others. (I can use “Ebony” or come up with another name. Up to you.)

    I’m sitting here smiling. So happy for you. Thanks again. And best of luck in your new job!

    • Ronnie of course I don’t mind I had planned to send you a “one year later” email as I definitely have learned some things and I don’t mind my name being used. Be well and thanks again for your blog you’re definitely a blessing!

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