Volunteer experience can help you get a job

In some non-profits (and other companies), unless you have worked there as a volunteer or intern, you aren’t likely to get a full-time, paid position. Even if the organization doesn’t have an official hire from within policy, volunteering might entice the hiring manager to give your resume a second look.

In the February, 2012 issue of Real Simple magazine (page 100), Laura Vanderkam wrote an article, “How volunteering helps you land a job,” which reiterates how important volunteering can be on your resume if used appropriately. Unfortunately, the article isn’t available online.

Vanderkam suggests listing specific skill-building volunteer activities on your resume. Look objectively at what you did. Did you organize a fundraiser? Recruit volunteers? Train them in assisting you with the event? Organize, recruit and train are all keywords that hiring managers like to see on a resume. Be sure to include as much detail as you can such as what the event raised, hoe many volunteers, time, etc. It cannot be said enough having skills and using them are two different things. Hiring managers want to know you can the use skills you highlight and transfer them into a new position.

Don’t discuss your volunteer work in an interview, unless the interviewer bring it up. “The employers who find the service to be relevant will ask you about it,” Vanderkam states in the article. “But some won’t feel that way about any unpaid work. In such cases, it’s best to stay quiet.”

Vanderkam also cautions against listing volunteer activities for polarizing organizations. Yes, you might have organizational, recruiting and event planning experience from staging a protest at a local business, but you might not want to cite that if you are applying to a Chamber of Commerce.

Additionally, Vanderkam suggests not listing activities that relate to being a parent, such as the PTA. “Researchers have found that women who cite volunteering related to motherhood on a resume are less likely to be called back for an interviews than those who list a neighborhood group.”

Have you listed volunteer activities on your resume?

The Staff that Volunteers together

According to VolunteerMatch, the benefits of volunteering for an outside organization as a staff extend beyond the organization the staff spent time with and goes on to benefit the company.

“New research shows that companies that help employees volunteer with nonprofit organizations could have a leg up with recruiting Generation Y (18-26 year-old) talent,” the VolunteerMatch website states. “Nearly two-thirds of the respondents (62%) in the 2007 Volunteer IMPACT survey by Deloitte & Touche USA said they would prefer to work for companies that give them opportunities to contribute their talents to nonprofit organizations.”

While I can’t speak for the ability to recruit talent based on a day of volunteering, I can speak to the sense of community and shifts in perspective a few hours working on a project together can give to staff.

This week, my office spent four hours volunteering at The Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri. It was a chance for all departments to work together on a single goal, packaging cylindrical protein for hungry families. Department staff were mixed up and divided into teams. It was the perfect opportunity to work with someone you don’t encounter regularly and see tangible evidence of your hard work in the bags of cylindrical protein ready for the freezer.

Personally, it gave me an opportunity to have non-work related conversations and get to know my coworkers a little better. It means when I pick up the phone to call someone or walk over to their office, I can start a conversation with, “how’s the previously unnamed baby horse doing? Does she have a name, yet?” Instead of a rote conversation with meaningless phrases, (hi, how are you? Fine. You? Fine. Silence.) I can show I paid attention to what you said and value you as a person and a colleague.

The subtle change in the atmosphere at the office for the rest of the day and week, were noticeable. Everyone seemed to be in a better mood.

I understand that not every company will give their employees paid time to volunteer and that I am incredibly lucky to work in an organization that was not only willing to give us the time, but encouraged us to take it. I think the four hours was more than worth it.

If you would like to make a donation to The Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri, you can donate online here.


Image from: http://www.wppl.org

No one looking for a job wants to hear, “we only hire from our pool of volunteers.” Yet many non-profits will tell that to applicants inquiring about open positions.

This isn’t necessarily bad. First, by volunteering with the organization you have an opportunity to make sure it really is a good fit. Second, it will give you better insight into what exactly is involved in each job or department. Third, it’s a chance to show you care about and value the organization.

Some non-profits have the equivalent of an apprentice program. A volunteer gets to work in the various departments over a specific period of time and then has the option to apply for positions.

So, what’s a poor job seeker to do? Find a way to volunteer! If you’re unemployed, volunteering can be a great way to spend your time and network. If you’re employed but considering a career change, find a way to volunteer after hours or on the weekend.

Volunteering for an organization does not have to mean you aren’t doing paid work elsewhere. It just can be a good foot in the door and give you insight into the organization.

Were you hired from a volunteer position? How did you do it?