Job searching is tough. Your motivation can quickly bottom out after yet another week of sending resumes and connecting with people on LinkedIn. One common hurdle of job seekers is meeting the required minimum of years of work. You need experience to get a job, but you need a job to get that experience. It’s a catch-22! Often people get discouraged and settle for unfulfilling, low-paid jobs that don’t align with their dream. And this is because most people don’t know how to acquire experience outside of jobs.
Here’s the good news: Volunteering can help you build your experience and make you more marketable! It’s less competitive and always in demand. Best part? There’s an organization for every area of interest. Love dogs? Volunteer at an animal shelter. Love reading? Spend some time shadowing a librarian. The task of finding the right place will not be difficult.
Here are some concrete ways volunteering can maximize your job search and jumpstart your career:
• It gives you experience
Think of volunteering as an unpaid internship. It provides hands-on experience and gives you a feel of the sector you’re looking to find work in. At the same time, it teaches you new skills while providing an opportunity to hone existing ones.
For example, if you choose to volunteer at your local children’s library center as a reader, you will develop communication, reading, writing and interpersonal skills – among others. These are skills that will have real-life application to almost every role. Keep in mind that you don’t have to volunteer in your particular field of interest to develop the skills that will help you land your dream job. That certainly helps, but you can transfer almost every skill you acquire over time.
Furthermore, volunteering can help fill in your employment gaps. Employers are actually impressed with people who dedicate time to a cause they are passionate about. It will work in your favor to mention your volunteer experience and the practical takeaways you learned from it.
• It provides you with a network
Whether you are volunteering in your career field or a loosely related one, you will have access to a network of colleagues and potential mentors. These are people who can advocate for you when you need a job reference if you impress them with your performance and build rapport with them. They can also share knowledge and resources, which will help you find out about opportunities you wouldn’t otherwise know about.
As someone once said ” Your network is your net worth.” Meeting as many people as you can during your volunteering experience can help you maintain connections and grow your network.
• It allows you to test-drive a new career
As a volunteer, you get an immediate sense of the organization and the role you’re in. It’s the perfect opportunity to explore new career options without committing to a specific role or industry. You get to observe and work in an environment and learn as much as you can along the way. You also get to meet industry insiders who can answer your questions and teach you a lot from their experience. It not only can give you more perspective and who knows, show you the way to your dream career after all.
Next time you wonder how you can add to your experience, remember that volunteering is a powerful way of acquiring real-life skills. Whether you shadow a few professionals or work in the field with mentors, volunteering can be the filler on your resume that will ultimately impress your future employers and make you more competitive as a job seeker.
Christy Joseph, Writer, Shortstints