Volunteering Your Way Into A Job

“The best volunteer job is one that has value to you, not just the organization who benefits from your services.”

Getting a college education or technical vocational certificate or degree aren’t the only ways to gain knowledge and experience. Many of us have learned our skills purely on the job. But in today’s market, job seekers often outnumber available positions, so the employer has the luxury of expecting people to already come with the necessary skills. Saying “I can learn” isn’t enough.

People who attend my seminars think I’m asking a trick question when I say “How many of you can afford free training?” They get a confused look on their face, but many start to understand and nod or raise their hands. Of course the answer is, “We can all afford free training.” Instead of just volunteering where someone has advertised the need for help, consider volunteering with the goal of learning something useful or offering your expertise for free in exchange for the opportunity to choose your own task at an organization which might create opportunities or connections for your career growth.

If you’re unemployed, you can list your volunteer job on your resume just like a regular position, with the only indication it’s a volunteer position in the salary line of an application form. You look productive and engaged, making you a more attractive job candidate. Maybe you want to work for a specific organization or get into a specific field, but don’t have the experience to be hired. Or maybe there isn’t an opening right now in what you want to do. It’s not uncommon for great volunteers to be invited to apply for positions as an insider. Sometimes, volunteers create an expansion that a business or organization decides to fund and create a paid position. If you’re that fantastic volunteer, they just might start paying you without even advertising a job opening.

This isn’t a crazy idea. I’ve personally volunteered my way into employment. I started out as a volunteer, was quickly asked to coordinate the volunteers, then became on-call and eventually full time staff. At another volunteer position, I was paid to cover shifts for regular staff on vacation and got great references for another job. I’ve also discovered through volunteering that I don’t want to do a particular job or work for a particular organization. I’ve even helped clients find volunteer situations that they ultimately turned into employment offers.

The best volunteer job is one that has value to you, not just the organization who benefits from your services. Few organizations will turn down the offer of a free worker if you have a well thought out proposal. Think about where you want to go in your career, what you need to know or have experience doing and then think about what you have to offer in exchange for the training or experience.

Perhaps you’d like to get into marketing, but you have no direct experience. You have great writing skills and know how to build and maintain a web page. Look for an organization that would love for you to create or manage their web page and give you the opportunity to try writing PR materials in exchange. Sometimes there already is a volunteer situation created that would be perfect for your needs. Check out www.volunteermatch.org and see if any of the more than 175 listed organizations and over 100 current listings for Santa Fe can give you an actual volunteer job or ideas or where else to look.

Originally published at SantaFe.com on November 30, 2011