Does Volunteering Lead to Jobs?

By Ellis Chase

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Last week the Corporation for National and Community Service released a study on volunteering as a path to paid employment:

“Volunteering as a Pathway to Employment: Does Volunteering Increase Odds of Finding a Job for the Out of Work?”

Those who volunteered were 27% more likely to find work. Impressive, but not surprising. I’ve always thought of volunteer opportunities as one possible route to take in reaching your career goals.

While the study focused on lower-skilled job seekers, I think volunteering can be good for job seekers at any level.

For those who are more educated and skilled, I think finding the right volunteer situation is critical. By "right," I mean something that might add a skill you need for your targeted career goal, or might reinforce an existing one. If you're an events planner, for example, getting involved in fundraising activities for a non-profit would be a great idea. Or if you're in finance, why not offer services in the financial area? Even though the circumstances might be very different from what you're used to, it's something you can point to when going out on the job market.  

And on a purely emotional basis, volunteering is a great idea for building structures into your day. That's always a big problem with people who are out of work all of a sudden - their regular structures, and people, disappear.  

But I don't encourage clients and students to seek full-time volunteer positions, though, because it would disrupt their regular search activities, and they’d risk losing their momentum. So I advise them to go for part-time. Three days a week tops. Otherwise you won’t have enough time for a reasonable job search.

Negotiate? For volunteer work?

Most people don’t realize that if you're going to offer your services for free, you can negotiate! Yup, negotiate. Obviously, not about salary, but about the position itself.

Here are a few items you might want to negotiate before you start:

  • Ask if you can be called a consultant, rather than a volunteer. Looks better on the resume, and sounds better in networking and interviewing.

  • Make sure your role is clearly defined so that you don’t run into a bait and switch situation. For example, you've been told you're going to help design a new system for membership, and then you find out after you start you're doing data entry. You don’t want to be stuck in a position that won’t help you further your overall goals.  

  • Ask if they'll provide excellent references for you (calling you a consultant, of course), assuming you do a terrific job.

  • Also, if you're going to do that terrific job for them, ask if they would assist you by providing some help in building your new networks -- names of contacts, affiliated organizations.

  • And . . . if things work out well on both ends, ask if it’s possible that any positions might become available (if you're interested, of course).  

The report shows that volunteers get a boost in terms of increasing their social connections and professional contacts. They often increase their skills. Two years out, they’re more likely to have landed jobs. All good. But, based on years of professional experience, I’ve seen that the best way to get the most out of a volunteer experience is to combine it with a targeted job search. There’s no reason you have to trade one for the other, if both will help you find a job that fits. 

You can find out more about "bridge jobs" in In Search of the Fun-Forever Job: Career Strategies that Work.  


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