How to Turn Your Volunteer Work Into a Paying Job

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Client Spotlight: The newly employed Katherine on the job after turning her volunteer work into a great opportunity!

If you’ve been following my blog lately, you’ll notice a focus on volunteerism and its benefits around career management. In sticking with this theme, I thought it might be helpful to share a success story and 9 key insights from one of my rockstar 1WK2NEW Bootcamp clients, Katherine, who was able to turn her volunteer experience into a job offer after spending tireless months in the job search.

Katherine had been splitting her time between the job search and volunteering at a non-profit after completing a year of service with AmeriCorps. Being no stranger to service from her recent AmeriCorps work, stepping right into volunteerism was only natural (and coincidentally, a great networking strategy). She had spent 6 months in the job search and knew she needed some extra support because the results weren’t rolling in.

Even though Katherine had been hunting for jobs, she knew she loved her volunteer work. Ideally she hoped to eventually become a paid employee of the non-profit where she was volunteering. She was even aware of the company’s need for new hires but she wasn’t sure which route to take in the application process or how to go about raising her hand for the job. She wasn’t exactly sure if she was qualified after analyzing the job description but she knew that she had the capabilities, the passion and the hunger to make this job hers.

With a little tweak of strategy, professional brand and a whole lot of interview prep, Katherine was able to communicate she was the right person for the job. Not only did she land the job, she survived multiple interviews, engaged the right contacts, and brought her job search to an end!

Here’s how she did it as well as what you need to know about turning your volunteer work into an opportunity.

1. Prove Yourself First

A true volunteer, gives back without expecting anything in return and that’s the spirit you should adopt even if you are hoping to use volunteering as an entry point into the company. Many non-profits or volunteer-run organizations have tight budgets and won’t just hire anyone. Furthermore, anyone who’s spent time in the world of non-profit knows you need to be able to roll up your sleeves and pitch in. This is what the company needs to see. Nothing will turn them off more than someone asking about jobs after only a short time volunteering. If you’re going to even contemplate landing a job, your supervisor and teammates need to see you are committed, hard-working and actually capable, to be worthy of being added to payroll.

2. Network Internally

The team you work with or support through your volunteer work is incredibly valuable when it comes to networking. Get to know everyone around you and raise your hand for projects that will expose you to different teams so that you can start to build relationships that may serve you well. It’s all about who you know in the job search so make knowing everyone your mission.

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Speak Up

The powers that be know you signed on for volunteer work and view you as a volunteer so don’t assume that they will know you are interested in a full-time job. You have to let them know you are interested. Even if you see job openings on the organization’s website, it doesn’t mean that your supervisor will automatically associate you as being the ideal candidate. With larger, national organizations the job postings are probably being managed out of corporate headquarters which means they likely have no idea who you are. When there’s an opening, don’t be afraid to speak up and make your interest known.

4. Advocate for Yourself

Raising your hand for the job opening may feel a bit awkward but it’s important to remember that the only person who can help you, is you. You are your best advocate and if you didn’t occur to your supervisor as first choice for the job opening, you’ll have to tell them why you are a fit. Here’s where your positioning comes into play… If you’ve demonstrated your capabilities for the role, and have been a force for good in your volunteer work, it won’t take much convincing. Try asking about the application process to spark the conversation and put your intent on your supervisor’s radar. Absolutely, indicate you have a sincere interest in the role as well.

5. Leverage Your Relationships

If you’ve been networking from day one, you should have started developing relationships with some of the full-time employees. These are valuable relationships to tap into when you start to hear news of hiring for your target role. Grab a coffee with someone you respect and with whom you have rapport, within the company to learn about how they got their start and the best route to follow when applying.

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6. Follow the Suggested Process

Because every organization’s hiring process is unique, you’ll want to get some insight into the best way to apply. An online job board is not the best option but if this is the suggested process from your supervisor or internal contact, you have to go this route. However, there’s nothing wrong with asking for a referral. If you have a good relationship with your supervisor and they like your work, they should have no problem helping you out by shooting an email referral to the hiring manager letting them know your application is in the pipeline.

7. Leverage Your Work Ethic & Commitment

Unless fate is on your side, it’s unlikely that the absolute best-fit job will open up while you are volunteering. You may not be 100% qualified for the openings available but it doesn’t mean you can’t sell yourself based on your current stats. If you are a little under-qualified when compared to the job description, fear not. Your work ethic and demonstrated commitment to the organization already, are stellar qualities you can speak to in the interview process. Even your familiarity to the inner workings of the organization and it’s culture are a huge advantage when interviewing so be sure to talk this up as a major selling point.

8. Practice (Don’t rely on your ego)

So you’ve caught the attention of the hiring manager through careful networking and your interview is scheduled. Now is the time to get serious and prep your tail off so you don’t crack under interview pressure. Even if you feel you’ve already got this due to your familiarity with the organization, an interview is make or break time so treat it as you would any company and practice practice practice. The last thing you want to do is mess up and miss out now that you’re so close!

9. Be Authentic

If you struggle with interview nerves and ego is not the problem here, remember one important fact: you are passionate about the mission and have demonstrated that by volunteering. You’re good at what you do and are determined to pursue your passion. Be yourself! People hire people they like so you’re authentic you will go a long way!

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Noelle

About Noelle

Noelle Gross is a career strategy expert and founder of NG Career Strategy. Noelle’s mission is to help people do what they love & she does this by applying a common-sense, executive recruiter-born approach that takes the pain out of the job search and produces quick results. Noelle brings a shrewd headhunter prowess, fun-loving practical perspective, and element of fresh to the career world.

2 Comments

  • Sam says:

    Great article! What to do when you have followed such steps and has been almost a year that you volunteered somewhere with signing up more than minimum shifts, trying your best and seeming like you getting along with all with finding the volunteer work rewarding, but unfortunately you not getting considered for open positions even for volunteers and you speak up with interest with they seeing your sincere volunteer efforts?

    Also, what to do if you volunteer there for a while and see it smooth with offering your best, but worst case for some unclear, unexpected reason one of the staff says despite you acting well with sincere, hard work you’re just not a good fit with work appreciated. How to deal with this utmost, shocking and unclear incident and still receive support in help finding a job and positive letter of reference for sure after your hard, sincere efforts?

    Thanks!

  • Noelle Noelle says:

    Hi Sam and thanks for your great questions! As with all things in the world of job search/hiring, these scenarios will depend on people and people are unpredictable. If you’ve been doing everything in this blog post for a year (specifically steps 4, 5 and 6) and your key contact says that you’re not a fit, sometimes there’s just no getting around it – companies have a particular fit in mind for every role. I’d recommend trying to understand why you’re not a fit and if possible, build up those skills/capabilities even if it means building them outside the current organization. If it’s not possible to get around a particular employee/contact within the organization and walls are just being put up in front of you, try leveraging a different relationship within the org – perhaps a more influential and helpful one. Finally, if things really aren’t possible, your best bet may be to find a new organization to volunteer with. You can seek out a different reference at your current org and use this current experience as a great selling point for the next volunteer role!
    Good Luck!

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