Looking for work can often be extremely challenging and frustrating. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Volunteering isn’t just about giving back to your community. It’s also a great way to build skills and experience, network and cultivate references, and hone your job application skills. Let’s delve into the five ways volunteering can enhance your job search!
1. Skill Development
If you’re a recent graduate with little work experience, volunteering can provide you with opportunities for on-the-job training. If you’ve been unemployed for a significant period, volunteering can allow you to refresh both your technical and soft skills. Even if you don’t find a volunteer role that perfectly aligns with the job you’re hoping to secure, volunteering can allow you to both demonstrate and hone transferable skills like leadership, communication, and time management.
The term networking conjures up images of awkward, intimidating cocktail events where everyone scrambles to rack up LinkedIn connections. In reality, networking can happen anywhere—including while volunteering! Real networking is about developing mutually beneficial relationships. When you volunteer, you’ll have the chance, not only to get to know your supervisor and their colleagues, but to demonstrate your abilities and shining personality. As a result, they’ll be able to effectively assist you in your job search, more so than anyone you meet at a formal networking event.
The process of applying for a volunteer position is very similar to that of applying for a job, particularly if you’re applying to a long-term volunteer role involving significant responsibility. You’ll be honing your cover letter and resume writing skills, as well as your interview skills.
Cover letters are notoriously tricky. You have just one page to articulate how your unique skillset, experience, and personality make you the perfect fit for the role. Non-profits are often concerned with telling a captivating story about their own work, so be sure to tie your own story to their mission, vision, and values.
Applying to multiple volunteer opportunities will allow you to test out different resume formats, from chronological to functional, and to practice customizing your resume to match the position description. When it comes time to apply for paid positions, make sure to include your volunteer experience on your resume. Don’t be afraid to list your volunteer work under professional experience—work is work, whether paid or unpaid!
From brief telephone interviews for short-term roles to formal in-person interviews for high-responsibility, long-term roles, the volunteer screening process will give you multiple opportunities to hone your interview skills. Ensure that you prepare for common questions like, “what do you know about our organization?” and “tell us about yourself.” When it comes time to interview for your dream job, you’ll be ready to answer these questions clearly, concisely, and confidently.
4. Getting Feedback
Asking for feedback throughout your job or volunteer search is vital. You’ll gain insight into current hiring practices, as well as your own strengths and weaknesses, setting you up to ace your next application or interview. Competition for certain volunteer roles can be fierce, so if you aren’t selected for a position, don’t be discouraged! Instead, calmly and politely ask for feedback. Even if you do secure a role, you may still want to ask your supervisor for feedback on your performance once you’ve been volunteering for a few weeks.
5. Cultivating References
If a lack of recent, local references is standing between you and your dream job, volunteering may be the answer. Look for long-term volunteer roles where you’ll be able to build relationships. Before you apply, ask whether a reference is conditional on having volunteered for a minimum number of hours or months. To ensure a glowing reference, treat your volunteer role with the same gravity as you would a paid position—be punctual, communicative, and do your best.
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