Jobless? Volunteer for Opportunities

Volunteering can teach new skills, fill in gaps in your resume.

ByTORY JOHNSON via via logo
March 23, 2009, 7:13 PM

March 24, 2009 — -- 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:

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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:

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

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.

In some organizations, there's a catch-22. Finally, highly qualified people want to volunteer, but the charity doesn't have the people and resources in place to handle the overflow of volunteer requests.

If this is true at your desired place of service, your best move is to approach the organization with an idea of how and where you can help, as opposed to waiting for the group to assess your interests.

Don't limit yourself to the big names. While there's instant recognition and prestige, you can also contribute to smaller groups where you can truly have ownership of projects and cut through red tape to make things happen.

To find an opportunity, is a national database of organizations looking for volunteers. You can also approach any group of your choice in your area.

Externships Are Also an Option

Volunteering is associated with nonprofits, interning is connected to students, and externing is a combination that's focused on professionals in the corporate world.

Click here for a template on how to give your time to a corporation instead of to a charitable group for the purposes of building experience on your resume.

Tory Johnson is the Workplace Contributor on ABC's "Good Morning America" and the CEO of Women For Hire. Visit her Web site at and follow her on

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