Updated May 2020
Volunteering may not earn you a paycheck but it doesn’t mean you can’t reap huge career benefits from it. This is especially true in the case of career changers. In this post we will share 10 benefits volunteering during a career change and how it can create clarity of direction as well as professional and personal fulfillment for your career.
How Making a Difference Can Make a Difference in Your Career
Doing good without expecting anything in return is pretty darn awesome! I am privileged to meet tons of individuals like this in my work preparing AmeriCorps members to land jobs after AmeriCorps. However doing good can also be a huge benefit to your career-related goals & general well-being. In particular, volunteering can be very beneficial for career changers. If you’re hoping for a career change but having trouble getting started, you may want to consider volunteering as an entry point to help shake things up. Here are 10 reasons why volunteering can be good for your career move:
1. Use Volunteering to Fill Resume Gaps & Eliminate Red Flags
The last thing you ever want on your resume, is a period of time where you were doing nothing. This is known as a resume gap and can be seen as a huge red flag. Volunteer work is a great way to fill any unexpected or expected resume gaps. If you’re about to be laid off or have been out of the work force for a while, you’ll want to pick up some volunteer work asap. A volunteer position creates recent experience. Recent experience is exactly what a hiring manager looks for when they scan your resume for red flags. If you are experiencing an employment gap and need more time to figure out your next move, volunteering will create a seamless professional transition on your resume.
2. Leverage Networking Opportunities Inside the Organization
If you’re considering a career change, you will want to learn as much as you can about the different types of career paths and jobs available for someone like you. This is where networking can be extremely valuable. There’s no better way to meet people, grow your network, and learn about new career paths, than working alongside people who are passionate about giving back. While you may not be rubbing elbows with the CEO, it’s still important to be aware of the endless benefits associated with forming connections across all levels of the organization. As a volunteer, your co-workers, staff members and fellow-volunteers all form a web of connections that may just turn into your next hiring manager introduction. Get to know everyone you volunteer or work with. Use your lunch break as an opportunity to conduct informational interviews. This is a great way to learn about more career paths or opportunities from others.
3. Build New Skills & Identify Transferable Skills Opportunities for Your Next Job
One of the top challenges for career changers, is being able to populate one’s resume with the skills necessary for making the change. Spending your time helping others within an organization is a great opportunity to build new skills. It’s also a great way to develop existing skills. While volunteering raise your hand to take on a variety of different projects or initiatives. Use these projects as opportunities to try your hand at a new technology. Work on developing your soft skills. Really work on professional development. Even if you fail or fall short, consider this a learning experience and identify areas for improvement the next time around. Try and target skills that you need for your next job. These transferable skills will help you beef up your resume branding and LinkedIn SEO.
4. Increase Your Confidence – Even if the Work is Unpaid
It’s not uncommon for career changers to feel a bit awkward and unqualified when trying to pivot or change to a new profession. This can create a decrease in confidence and have a huge negative impact on the job search. Working as a volunteer will give you a sense of purpose. It will keep your skills and capabilities from becoming rusty. It will also help you to maintain a social life in a professional setting. All of this will contribute to increased levels of confidence. If you’ve ever been in a tough job search, you’ll know that maintaining confidence is huge. This confidence will naturally start to reduce any doubt you may have carried as a result of a dead-end job search or lay-off. Nothing speaks like confidence when you walk into an interview so consider this benefit a major pay-off for future employer conversations as well. This is especially important for career changers who tend to feel less confident in their abilities to shift or pivot in a new career direction.
“Before working with Noelle and joining the Job Search Accelerator, I was unsure where to begin my search and what the best approach would be. I would aimlessly scroll job boards for hours, looking at positions but not pursuing them because I was stuck on where to start with my application process. That wasn’t getting me anywhere! Since taking advantage of Noelle’s membership, I have been using the bootcamp resources to determine my next steps and approach. I have been able to organize my network and improve my resume and LinkedIn profile to market myself and land interviews. I am now confident when I present a potential employer with my resume and forward connections to my LinkedIn page.” – Jen, Non-profit Industry
5. Gain Valuable On-the-Job Practice
If you’ve been out of the workforce for a while, volunteering can be a good test-run for easing into the “real world” or corporate environment. It can also provide a realistic glimpse into the nuances and expectations within the world of non-profits. This can be extremely valuable if you are considering making a change from corporate to non-profit. Use your volunteer work as a way to shake off any rust that might be bogging you down and start fresh. If you are a savvy networker you may also be able to turn your volunteer work into a paying job.
6. Learn About You & Gain Career Clarity
Cultural fit plays a huge part in determining whether or not a candidate will work out from the hiring manager perspective. For a career changer trying to create fit in a new field, cultural fit can be a huge selling point, despite a potential lack of solid experience. Volunteering at different types of organizations, with different missions, can help you identify where you thrive so you can ultimately gain clarity around the type of company to target in future moves. If you’ve had a bad experience within large organizations, target a small non-profit. All organizations are not created equal so really use your volunteer time as a time for exploration in order to feel out your ideal next situation and best cultural fit.
7. Develop Your Reputation as a Team Player
Volunteering usually requires collaboration with the people you serve or the staff members with whom you work. Team collaboration is also a highly attractive quality in the eyes of hiring managers. Therefore use this as an opportunity to enhance your teamwork skills. Focus on creating opportunities to be a team player and identify any teamwork wins along the way. This will give you a strong “team player” story for your next interview. Hiring managers love team players and these types of stories will really help you sell you!
8. Add a Passive Networking & Relationship Building Strategy to Your Job Search
Career changers experience the most success landing new jobs through networking. Why? Because people hire people they like. From my years spent in executive recruiting I can tell you with confidence that it’s not always the most qualified person who gets the job. Volunteering can be an ideal way to unwind with other like-minded individuals and socialize in a more purpose-oriented setting. There’s no better happy hour than doing good with others and developing relationships around selfless giving. You’ll also be incorporating a passive networking strategy which may serve you well in the future.
9. Make a Difference While Also Benefiting Your Career
The film quote from It’s a Wonderful Life put it best when it said, “The only thing you can take with you is that which you leave behind.” Life is short and there’s a lot of good to be done in this world. If everyone thought less about themselves and put others first, imagine what a place this would be. There’s no time like the present to roll up your sleeves and help your fellow human.
10. Increase Your Happiness
As if making a difference isn’t enough reason to volunteer, increased happiness is also an added benefit to expect. According to a study in Social Science and Medicine, “compared with people who never volunteered, the odds of being “very happy” rose 7% among those who volunteer monthly and 12% for people who volunteer every two to four weeks. Among weekly volunteers, 16% felt very happy—a hike in happiness comparable to having an income of $75,000–$100,000 versus $20,000.”
If you’re hoping to present the right brand and land a job with your volunteer organization, check out the Job Search Accelerator. In this budget-friendly job landing program you’ll have access to all of Noelle’s expert resources including optimized resume / cover letter templates, networking scripts and templates, LinkedIn optimization courses, interview answer scripts and more – everything you need to feel confident, navigate the job search successfully, and put your best foot forward as an applicant.