Volunteering Has Value for Job Hunters
Millions of Americans volunteer a portion of their time each year. From donating a few hours weekly to nearby hospitals to participating in breast or ovarian cancer walks to raise research funds, millions of us donate our time and skills to myriad organizations and causes.
If you've lost your job and are thinking of abandoning your volunteer commitments, outplacement executives say: Don't. Volunteering can be both psychologically and strategically helpful to your job change effort.
"A long job search can drain your energy and confidence. Volunteering, on the other hand, tends to create positive feelings that help people regain their energy and enthusiasm," said Steve Harvey, former national chair of OI Partners and president of the California-based career transition firm The McGuire Group.
Echoing that sentiment, Thomas Morris III, author of Career Mechanics: Solutions to Common Career and Employment Issues and president of Washington, D.C. -based Morris Associates/Lincolnshire International, said, "Volunteering can put job hunters in a better, more positive frame of mind. It gives them a chance to give back something of value and too often, when people lose their jobs they feel as if they've lost their value."
"Plus," added Harvey, "at a time when no employer needs you, it provides a psychological boost to feel needed and appreciated by the organizations and individuals your volunteer work impacts."
Despite the benefits of volunteering, Harvey tells job hunters it's a mistake to use volunteering to avoid job hunting. "It's critical for job hunters to maintain a balance and make sure they're putting substantial time and effort into their job search efforts," he said.
Morris agrees but still stresses the value of taking time to volunteer when job hunting. "Career management professionals commonly urge unemployed people to make job hunting a full-time, 40-hour a week job," he said. "I agree it's critical to treat job hunting as a job when you're unemployed but I'd rather people do an effective 35-hour a week search --- and use the other hours to do things like volunteering, that make them feel good. The sense of purpose and satisfaction people get from helping others can help overcome the disappointments of the job search process."
Looking beyond the psychological benefits of volunteering, Harvey pointed to its strategic benefits for job hunters. "Volunteering is a great way for job hunters to expand their contacts --- and many job opportunities come to people as a result of their personal contacts," he said. "Even for jobs advertised in newspapers or posted online, people can often get added attention if they're referred to the hiring managers involved by personal contacts who know those managers."
Another practical benefit: Volunteering for organizations can lead to paid jobs with the same organizations.
"I recently had a client whose volunteer work with an organization led to a job with that group," noted Harvey. "This client had a successful career as a corporate manager. An avid fisherman, he also volunteered occasionally to coordinate fishing tournaments for a local angling club he belonged to."
"When this gentleman lost his job last year, he cultivated several job opportunities --- including one from the Angling Club," noted Harvey. "Impressed with his volunteer work as well as his professional experience, the club offered him a paid position as a director. He accepted the offer and is now enjoying the job."
Early in his career, Morris also landed a paying job through a volunteer involvement. "When I finished graduate school with a degree in advertising and mass communications, I couldn't find a job in advertising so I spent the summer doing landscaping to earn money," he recalled. "I also volunteered for a group called Partners that paired adult mentors with troubled teens."
While volunteering, someone told Morris Partners had a job for a recruiting director. "I applied and was hired," he said. "During my tenure, we quadrupled the number of volunteer partners from 100 to 400."
Discovering through his work at Partners how much he enjoyed working with people, Morris ended up pursuing a career in recruiting and outplacement, not advertising and marketing.
Job hunters intentionally trying to change careers can also find volunteering valuable. A successful sales professional who wants to pursue a professional fundraising career, for example, can volunteer to coordinate a fundraiser for a non-profit organization she supports. Her success in that volunteer role could bolster her case when interviewing for paid fundraising jobs by demonstrating she has what it takes to succeed in professional fundraising.