Jobless? Volunteer for Opportunities

PHOTO Everyone knows youre not job hunting effectively if you flood job boards with resumes and then hope the phone rings.

Everyone knows you're not job hunting effectively if you flood job boards with resumes and then hope the phone rings.

Carve out time daily to find good leads, send out resumes to follow up, and make new contacts. That leaves time to devote to volunteering, which offers great benefits to advance your career.

Among them:

Gain a new skill or enhance an existing one while minimizing a gap in unemployment
The change to get out of the house and feel good about giving your time and talent

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Introductions to new people who may help in your search
A positive experience to share when a prospective employer asks, "What have you been doing with your time?"

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Ideally, to reap the maximum benefit from your volunteer time, your efforts should be aligned with your career goals.

For example, an out-of-work graphic designer can offer to create a logo, invitations and all print and online materials for the 25th anniversary fundraiser at a church, or that same person can volunteer for an organization that brings arts programs to needy schools.

Those contributions help a worthy cause and add value to a resume that's in keeping with the type of position the candidate wants to pursue.

Treat this as seriously as a paying job; doing an hour a month here and there isn't going to produce the same benefits for you career-wise as a dedicated commitment, even one that's once a week or two afternoons a week. Establish an understanding that when you get a full-time job, you'll have to scale back or potentially stop.

Position Value to an Employer

It's up to you to position your volunteer work in a way that's perceived as valuable by prospective employers. Do so in business terms that translate in any work place.

Let's say you are an out-of-work office manager who has volunteered to head the auction committee at your kid's school. You can use that experience to your advantage -- if you phrase it correctly in quantitative business terms.

If you managed to bring the auction in under budget, raised a lot of money and got more people involved, here's what you'd put on your resume:

Negotiated with vendors, saving 15 percent over last year's budget
Raised $10,000 more than last year's event by implementing new promotions and additional opportunities for giving
Increased volunteer response by 10 percent over last year with improved outreach techniques

That's the kind of language — and record of success — that will capture the attention of an employer or recruiter.

Tap New Connections

Don't be shy about looking at the board of directors or the list of supporters at the organization. If you can point to the value you've brought to that group, there's nothing wrong with making a cold call or sending an e-mail saying, "I've been volunteering here ... this is my contribution ... and I'd very much appreciate the chance to spend a few minutes talking to you about my work in this field."

That doesn't work if you've been there for three days; it's only applicable once you've shown a sustained commitment.

Talk to other volunteers to find out what kind of work they do. Even if they're out of work, they likely have a spouse, friend, neighbor, former colleague or someone who they could introduce you to if there's a potential connection.

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