When we think of an active job search, we often imagine writing dozens of resumes, researching organizations, agonizing over what to say in a cover letter, and stressing about how and what to say to our network of contacts. As job seekers, we forget that volunteering can be a progressive and impactful component to our job search strategy.
Volunteering plays a significant role in today’s economy and culture. In many parts of the country, you can’t receive a high school diploma without completing 40 hours of volunteering. Many nonprofit organizations wouldn’t exist without the help and expertise of their volunteers. Without people donating their time, many of the events and organizations that we depend on would not function.
If volunteering is important to the world-at-large, then so it should be to our job search. Here are some ways that volunteering can affect your job search and career decisions:
1. Explore a new career. Want to work with animals? Be an event planner? Work in social services? Finding a volunteer position in any of these fields can help you make an informed decision about what career you'd like to pursue. Whether you’re in high school and thinking of pursuing a discipline in college or university, or you’re a mature worker thinking about switching careers, volunteering is an invaluable way to get a real sense of whether or not it's the right career for you.
2. Network. Building your network of meaningful contacts is the greatest tool in your job search toolbox and is a nice side-effect of volunteering. You don’t have to consciously network – just the act of volunteering exposes you to a plethora of people in a variety of roles with potentially hundreds of contacts. And you’re doing it in a professional setting, which means that the people you’re coming in contact with don’t see you as unemployed; they see you as a colleague, expert, and/or business contact.
3. Bridge a resume gap. No one wants to look stale on their resume. Volunteering is an excellent way to stay current. It doesn’t matter if you’re volunteering within your professional field or outside of it, what matters is that you’re active! Employers want to know that you’re creating opportunities for yourself and/or others.
4. Stay motivated. Job searching can often feel isolating and depressing. The longer your job search takes, the less confident you may feel. Finding a volunteer position will help you combat those feelings of depression and isolation. Someone, or something, depends on you. There’s a tangible purpose for you to get up and get going.
5. Develop skills. Skills get rusty if they’re not used regularly. If you anticipate being out of work for a lengthy amount of time (ie. parental leave; switching careers; going back to school; moving to a new area) then volunteering is a great way to keep your skills fresh or learn some new ones. Sometimes you’ll even have access to free training that you can later include on your resume, such as First Aid or Conflict Resolution.
6. Gain references. This is especially helpful if you are new to a community, the country, an industry, getting back into the job market, or are a young job seeker without extensive work experience. Current and relevant references are vital to a successful job search. Your next volunteer gig will potentially give you references from managers, colleagues, clients, customers and/or participants.
7. It's intrinsically valuable. Looking for work can bring up a lot of difficult emotions and generate a lot of stress. The longer your job search, the more overwhelming these obstacles can seem. Research shows that doing something kind for someone else is the best medicine for feeling better about your own situation. Find a volunteer position that provides you with the opportunity to make a meaningful impact.
8. Find a job opportunity. Who knows, maybe your role will turn into a paid position. At the very least, you will hear about internal opportunities and the application and interview process will be much smoother sailing because they will already know who you are and what you’re capable of doing.
Navigating the world of volunteerism and finding a volunteer position doesn't have to be overwhelming. There are some amazing resources to help you discover your best volunteer-self!
Visit www.volunteer.ca, Canada’s national site for volunteering. It’s loaded with resources and links to networks, sites and positions. Also, CharityVillage has a searchable directory of volunteer positions that are available across the country.
Marie has worked in Employment Services for more than 8 years and is currently Facilitation Services Manager at Job Skills. She has also been an active volunteer for more than 20 years holding volunteer positions at Extend-A-Care, Best Buddies Canada, Durham Region Literacy Council, and Community Care Access Centre.
Please note: While we ensure that all links and email addresses are accurate at their publishing date, the quick-changing nature of the web means that some links to other websites and email addresses may no longer be accurate.