I frequently hear from job seekers who ask about the role of volunteer experience in their job hunt. Specifically, they want to know whether a volunteering is a good way to get a job offer. This question is particularly salient for people looking for work in the nonprofit sector.
Here’s the short answer: volunteering can certainly help you find a job, but probably not in the direct, linear way you might imagine.
You should not volunteer with an organization with the expectation that it will lead directly to a job in that organization. While some nonprofits do subsequently hire volunteers, this is neither an assured, nor particularly probable, path to full-time employment.
The impact of volunteering is generally more subtle and contextual–but still powerful. Here are six ways it can advance your job search:
Volunteering grows your network
Networking is the single-best thing you can do to find a job and advance your career. Volunteering is a fantastic way to make new professional contacts and kickstart meaningful networking relationships with like-minded people. This is particularly true if your are volunteering as part of a career transition into a new field or organization.
Volunteering lets you test drive a new career
Curious about a new job, organization, or career? Volunteering is an opportunity to explore the benefits and challenges in that prospective role. It’s a low cost way to discover whether you’ll like the day-to-day work before you start a time-intensive job search or enroll in an expensive graduate program.
Volunteering showcases your abilities
The secret to landing a job is showing prospective employers how you can solve their problems. Volunteering–particularly on discrete, time-limited projects–puts you in a position to display your problem solving abilities, your work ethic, and your personality.
Volunteering teaches you marketable skills
If you need new skills to land your dream job, you can often learn (or deepen) those skills through volunteer opportunities. There is a proven connection between volunteering and improved soft skills, like leadership, relationship building, and communication; but in many cases you can also learn valuable hard skills in a volunteer role.
Volunteering bespeaks your passion
Employers want to hire dedicated professionals who have a demonstrated passion for the job. This is especially true in nonprofit, mission-driven organizations. It’s not enough to simply say “I am passionate about X” in your cover letter or in an interview!
Your background needs to testify to that interest. Volunteer experience in a specific sector or issue-area is a powerful way to showcase an established and longstanding passion.
Volunteering fills employment gaps in your resume
Significant periods of unemployment–regardless of the cause–can raise red flags with a some hiring managers. Volunteering shows that you were still engaged with a meaningful cause or project even when you weren’t formally employed.