We’ve all heard politicians on both sides of the aisle talk about the importance of Volunteerism in America. Part of America’s “exceptionalism” is Americans’ willingness to help one another, in times of crisis and on ordinary days. The personal fulfillment that comes from investing time in a cause that you are passionate about or helping an underserved population cannot be overestimated. The same goes for the tangible benefits brought to the organizations and people one serves. But volunteering can bring you benefits that you may not have considered, especially if you are in the midst of a job search process.

Volunteerism and the Job Hunt

When you are looking for work, volunteerism can sound a lot like working for free. Not ideal when you need some income. But try to think about what your volunteer experience might bring you even if it is not monetary rewards. 

  • Keep your skills up-to-date—when you haven’t worked in a while, it’s easy to let your skills lax or creative energy die. Use those skills to help a nonprofit and stay on top of the latest trends and technology. Organizations like the Taproot Foundation tap into the Creative industries, specifically, for Design and Marketing talent. Projects there can make a great addition to any portfolio.
  • Network—you will probably have a chance to meet some of the movers and shakers at your volunteer organization and start a relationship that could lead to a job when an opening occurs. You immediately rise to the top of the resume pile without even having an interview!
  • Get recommendations—if you do a good job, you can ask your manager to write you a letter of recommendation or an endorsement on LinkedIn.
  • Transition into a new role—your transferable skills can be very useful to a non-profit, even if it is not in a field you have worked in before. Get your foot in the door in a new industry – who knows where it could lead you.
  • Eliminate gaps in your resume’s timeline—a potential employer likes to see that you have been working steadily before you interview. A volunteer position can be listed as Work Experience. LinkedIn also has a new category for Volunteer Experience which is another way to get that information out to hiring managers.

I am a member of a group of experienced professionals called the LA Fellows, a career development program which brings together highly-skilled workers with meaningful volunteer opportunities which will help them in their job search process. I asked my colleagues, “What has your volunteer experience done for you?” Here are some of their answers:

Robert Kanter: “It helped me reassess my value to an organization as a leader, teacher and communicator.”

Caroline McElroy: “My volunteer experience filled in a gap in my resume, gave me something exciting to talk about in interviews and inspired me to go back to publishing a newsletter and blogging.”

Joy Pacifici: “Volunteering makes me happy by letting me give back to causes I believe in. And when I am happy, I am a more effective person at work and in life.”

I am also a committed volunteer – at my children’s schools, in the classroom and for booster clubs, with my church and as a Girl Scout Leader. Volunteering is an important part of my life and has become an important element in my career development as well. Perhaps you, too, can discover just how rewarding it can be.

“Each time a person stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, they send forth a tiny ripple of hope… These ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” Robert F. Kennedy

Wendy Stackhouse, Consultant for Artisan Creative