How Volunteering Helps You Change Careers, with Aaron Good

Listen On:

Transcript

Find Your Dream Job, Episode 213:

How Volunteering Helps You Change Careers, with Aaron Good

Airdate: October 16, 2019

Mac Prichard:

This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life.

I’m Mac Prichard, the founder of Mac’s List. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps people find fulfilling careers.

Every week, I interview a career expert about the tools you need to get the work you want.

Have you ever said no when asked to volunteer because you thought you should get paid instead?

Our guest today says that’s a mistake you don’t want to make twice. Aaron Good is here to talk with me about how volunteering can help you change careers.

Aaron is the founder of Trailhead Counseling. He helps his clients improve at work, find a new career, or learn the practical mechanics of a job search.

He joins us today in person in the Mac’s List studio in Portland, Oregon.

Aaron, why should someone who, particularly is out of work, volunteer? Shouldn’t professionals, especially those with lots of experience, get paid for their work and expertise?

Aaron Good:

Well, I think there are a couple of things, especially, you mentioned being unemployed, for example. Volunteering can give us structure, connection, and purpose and in that way, it can, at least temporarily, replace work. That’s a good first step but I think that in terms of career-changing, it can be really valuable in giving you exposure to a new industry, so let’s talk about that.

Mac Prichard:

I do want to dig into that.

Aaron Good:

Yeah.

Mac Prichard:

But what do you say to a listener who says, “Gosh, I’ve got a graduate degree, 15 years of professional experience, why should I volunteer in my field? Shouldn’t I get paid for what I do?”

Aaron Good:

There’s a lot of value in networking, so if you are volunteering in an area, say, that you were previously employed in or adjacent to that, you’re going to make connections there. And not just people who work at the organizations but other people who are volunteering and those connections are the sort of thing that can turn into actual jobs, so, that’s why.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, and so let’s talk about how volunteering can help you change careers. Particularly if you’ve been in the workplace for 10 years, maybe mid-career, how could this make a difference?

Aaron Good:

Absolutely, several points there. One is exposure to a new industry.

The other would be uncovering new strengths about yourself that you didn’t know you had. You know, I’ve seen people who had maybe no interest in education or working with children discover they had this talent for talking with young folks and so I think that can have a lot of value.

Mac Prichard:

What should a job seeker try to get out of a volunteer experience when they’re thinking about changing careers?

Aaron Good:

Oh, absolutely. I think both the networking connections and accumulating experience that you can use on a resume and use when you’re talking about your experience.

Mac Prichard:

How do you select this kind of experience, because there’s a strategy here, isn’t there?

Aaron Good:

Oh yeah, absolutely. So, there are a variety of strategies. One would be things that are important to you, that you care about, and another would be areas that you are interested in exploring. I’m thinking about resources that you can use to find that.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, well, let’s talk about someone who’s…they’re in one industry, let’s say insurance, and they want to make the change to banking, so, they’re between jobs. What kind of volunteer experiences might someone who wants to make that career change consider?

Aaron Good:

Yeah, that’s a… there’s an excellent example there. For example, you can volunteer to do tax preparation for people who meet certain requirements. So, I’ve known folks who volunteered doing taxes prep and met people in various finance roles and banking roles, and then those turned into actual jobs.

Mac Prichard:

Let’s talk about how that experience helps someone, particularly in changing careers. What happened there, Aaron?

Aaron Good:

In that example, you know, someone’s volunteering at the tax site and they meet someone who’s also working there who sees that person’s dedication to helping people and their skill with numbers, and also admires their commitment to helping folks so…and then turns that into an actual job offer. So, it became, “Hey, we need a new accountant for our company, looks like you’re good with this stuff, we’d love to bring you on.”

Mac Prichard:

Okay, so the person made a connection, they also had an opportunity to show what they could do, didn’t they?

Aaron Good:

Absolutely.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, now what about when it might not lead to an offer but what are some of the other benefits of volunteering, in addition to making connections and building relationships?

Aaron Good:

One of the biggest benefits I’ve seen is in using the setting to sort of informally, informationally interview people who are both in that field and at the organization. So, you are working alongside somebody at a nonprofit or working alongside someone doing some environmental mediation work; you can ask them, “How did you get into this? What education do you have? What background? And what would you recommend for someone trying to get into this field?”

And people are a lot more willing to give you that time for that informational interviewing when they are already there with you and working alongside you.

Mac Prichard:

It’s not a formal conversation at an office; it’s actually chit chat over the water cooler, isn’t it?

Aaron Good:

Absolutely, and people, I’ve found, tend to be a lot more open about their level of job satisfaction and how happy they are with the organization when they don’t think they’re being informationally interviewed.

Mac Prichard:

I’m just thinking about, again, benefits and requests for help when someone is volunteering. You mentioned having an informal conversation about what work is like in that world. What are other ways that a volunteer might ask for help? Particularly when considering making a career change?

Aaron Good:

I’ve seen folks ask for help and one example would be getting into the mental health field. There are a lot of crisis lines that will train you on a lot of the basic skills that you need to help support someone over the phone in a crisis. And then after you have been volunteering for a while, some of those organizations are happy to provide a reference for you when applying to graduate school or when applying to a job in the mental health field.

Mac Prichard:

You’re getting on-the-job training, as well, aren’t you?

Aaron Good:

Oh yeah, I mean, some of the training you can get is excellent. I mean, training in mental health, training in environmental remediation. The training that you can get at somewhere like Habitat for Humanity is excellent.

Mac Prichard:

Are there things that a job seeker, when volunteering, shouldn’t ask for?

Aaron Good:

I would recommend that you do not ask for a reference, or referral, or letter of recommendation very early on in the process.

I’ve seen, sometimes people will, at their first session, or meeting, or event, say, “Hey, I really need a letter for this.” And folks aren’t… I would say organizations aren’t very happy to give those out when they don’t know how committed you are to being engaged.

Mac Prichard:

What’s a good time to ask for a reference?

Aaron Good:

I think 3 – 6 months after multiple engagements is reasonable.

Mac Prichard:

What about the expectation of a job? I’ve met listeners who think, “Well if I volunteer at this organization where I’d love to work, I’ll get a job offer.”

Aaron Good:

I wouldn’t count on it. I have seen it happen and it’s really fantastic when it does. You know, after all, it can be a way for the employer to vet you a little bit, see how engaged and committed you are. It can happen, I certainly wouldn’t bank on it.

Mac Prichard:

Should you ask for a job?

Aaron Good:

I think you should certainly become aware of when jobs are becoming open. Also, if the organization is growing, make it known that you are interested. I saw one person who actually used their unemployment as an opportunity to turn that into volunteering, and then into a job. Simply because the organization didn’t have, I think, enough shifts open for as much as they wanted to volunteer and they said, “Well, we can’t accommodate your request to volunteer this much but what if you just ran the department instead and we paid you?”

Mac Prichard:

I’m thinking about the listener who knows they would love to work at a particular place and they understand they shouldn’t ask for a job right out of the gate, but how can they evaluate whether it’s a good opportunity or not to volunteer there with the hope that it might lead to a job?

Do you have to invest 3, 6, 12 months of volunteering to know that, or are there signals that you can pay attention to right up front?

Aaron Good:

You’re asking if people can tell up front if this is the sort of place that might have jobs down the line?

Mac Prichard:

Correct.

Aaron Good:

I would judge that based on the size of the organization and probably what you know or can determine about their funding. You know, a really barebones nonprofit that might have some small part-time staff, it might be hard if you’re looking for full-time employment in that field to insert yourself there. I think with a larger organization, you have some greater chances. Especially with more entry-level positions.

Mac Prichard:

That’s because there’s more turn-over, more opportunities; so if you’re looking at an organization with a staff of 5 or 10, it’s probably not going to happen, is it?

Aaron Good:

Yeah, that seems unlikely but possible.

Mac Prichard:

I’m guessing you can also look at turnover in staff and some organizations, people love their work and they never leave, do they?

Aaron Good:

That’s a really great point, Mac. You can absolutely figure that out in the process of this informal, informational interviewing. “Are people sticking around for a long time? Are they doing so even when they’re not that satisfied? Is this somewhere I really want to work?” And figuring out whether people do actually get their jobs.

Mac Prichard:

You’ve been volunteering at a place, it’s a new field for you and you’re excited about it, you’ve been there 2 or 3 months, a position opens up, what should you do next? You’re qualified, should you go to the manager? Should you try to make something happen before it’s even advertised? What should you do?

Aaron Good:

I would absolutely recommend you getting yourself in there, not necessarily as a candidate first. Just expressing interest in working for the organization, expressing an interest, “If anything comes open, I’d love to be a part of that.” Because with some organizations, once you submit some sort of official application, they may have a policy in place of not talking about it, and talking with you about it, so if they can know ahead of time that you’re interested, that’s really ideal.

Mac Prichard:

I’ve been drilling down on this, Aaron, because I meet a lot of job seekers who volunteer with the hope that it will lead to a job, or they hear about an opportunity and they’re not quite sure how to pursue it. But I’m curious, in your experience, when volunteering, particularly when making a career switch, most people, the benefit they get out of it is the experience and the connections. Do you find that it’s really only a minority of people who actually find they get jobs by volunteering?

Aaron Good:

Jobs at the organization? Yeah, I would say it’s a minority.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, okay, so it’s possible but don’t put all your eggs in that basket. Think about the other benefits.

Aaron Good:

Exactly.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, I want to take a break. When we come back, Aaron, I want to talk about how to find these opportunities because we’ve talked about the benefits, and how people can make the most of being on the inside, and particularly if a position opens up, but I want to step back and look at how people can actually uncover volunteer opportunities. Particularly the ones that may never be posted.

Stay with us. We’ll be back in just a moment.

The most rewarding volunteer experiences often come from doing what you enjoy most. My Uncle Denny, for example, loved to collect comic books from his childhood.

So, in his retirement, my uncle worked for free every Saturday at a second-hand comic book shop. He loved the job and the people he met. And he got first crack at buying the best vintage comics for his own collection.

My uncle also taught me that good collectors always focus. Otherwise, you get distracted and never complete your collection.

The same is true when you’re job hunting. To get a position that will excite and energize you, you have to know what you want.

Do you have a clear job search goal?

If not, go to macslist.org/focus.

You’ll get new a new free guide from Mac’s List. It’s called Finding Focus in Your Job Search.

Get your copy today. Go to macslist.org/focus.

We’ll show you how to get clear about your own career goals. And that will help you apply for the jobs you really want. Not the positions you feel you could do or you think you need to settle for.

Go to macslist.org/focus. It’s free.

Stop wasting time chasing jobs that don’t fit your needs. Instead, like my Uncle Denny, the comic book collector, focus on what you want.

Go to macslist.org/focus.

Now, let’s get back to the show.

Mac Prichard:

We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Aaron Good. He’s a career counselor here in Portland, Oregon, and our topic this week is how volunteering can help you with a career change.

Now, Aaron, before the break we talked about the benefits of volunteering, and now let’s step back and talk about how to find these opportunities.

Let’s talk about the first step. I imagine it comes back to your career goals, doesn’t it?

Aaron Good:

Absolutely, I think you’ll want to think about areas you’re interested in exploring. If you’re considering a change, what fields? What sectors is that? And are there organizations you already know in that field?

Then, there are a variety of resources that I love. Hands-On, which is active in many metropolitan areas is a great way to look, like, “I want to do something tonight, or this week, or in the coming month, and I don’t want to have to do too much digging immediately to find something.”

Mac Prichard:

That’s a national organization that is active in many cities, and you can look for local websites.

Aaron Good:

Exactly, and what they do is they cull a large number of volunteer positions from other organizations and they make the process easy, just sign up and go in.

I think Volunteer Match is also useful but I’ve really been pushing a lot of people these days to use the local Business Journal, because they likely have a list of the top 100 or top 25 to 100 nonprofits in various areas and just other businesses in other areas so, depending where you want to target.

Mac Prichard:

I think there are several dozen citizens who have local Business Journals and almost every state has a business magazine of some kind.

Aaron Good:

They do.

Mac Prichard:

It’s common for those publications to produce lists like you just mentioned as well.

Aaron Good:

Absolutely.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, so look online, look at publications, match it to your career goals. Is there, for career-switchers, should they have a different strategy or approach than maybe somebody who is looking to find a job in the same field and the same occupation? What’s your thinking there, Aaron?

Aaron Good:

I would say it’s useful for both groups and I think the strategy is definitely the same or similar, yeah.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, and why is that?

Aaron Good:

You’re looking for organizations that align with your goals whether you are looking to switch or advance.

Mac Prichard:

So the key is to know what your goals are?

Aaron Good:

Yeah, absolutely.

Mac Prichard:

It’s also a chance to road test a new profession, isn’t it?

Aaron Good:

It absolutely is. To find out if this is something you actually want to do. You know, I’ve certainly worked with people where the expectation is that you have to quit your job and go to graduate school before you could dip your toe into anything else, and volunteering is an excellent way to test out if you enjoy doing something and enjoy working in that industry.

Mac Prichard:

You mentioned online sites like Hands-On, as well as publications like Business Journals, and we talked about state business magazines. What about people’s networks? How can people work with colleagues or friends to identify opportunities where they might volunteer?

Aaron Good:

Well, I think that connects pretty well with what I would really recommend as a method beyond websites is finding positions that might not be posted somewhere.

Finding organizations that might not have a volunteer coordinator and using your network is a great way to do that. If you know people who are in fields that interest you, you can ask them, “Is there any way I could get in there to help out with some administrative work or do you need help organizing an event?”

And so, beyond that, or taking a step back from that, I think, simply targeting sectors and businesses of interest, and finding out, “Is there someone in a particular department who is doing something close to what I want to be doing? Is there some way I can help them out with something?”

Mac Prichard:

How do you recommend people do that kind of research? Should they be having coffee meetings? What have you seen work well?

Aaron Good:

I would say coffee meetings, emails, a lot of emails, and phone calls. I recommend that people try to keep, no matter where they are in the process, keep 20 active contacts in the hopper; that means, every week, be trying to connect with 20 people because half of those people aren’t going to respond, half the remainder may say no, and the remaining few may take weeks or months to work out. So, if you keep filling that hopper with people to contact, you’ll start getting meetings.

Mac Prichard:

You mentioned that some organizations might not post volunteer opportunities, and that’s certainly common when hiring for paid positions. Why wouldn’t an organization looking for a volunteer, someone to donate their time, share the word far and wide?

Aaron Good:

That’s kind of my point, Mac, they might not be looking, you know? They might be aware in the back of their heads that sometimes they have a little too much work, but they’re not thinking, “I should go out and ask if someone would, say, like to help me… I don’t know… restore books at a central library.” Or something like that.

Mac Prichard:

What is a good way to uncover those needs?

Aaron Good:

Reach out to people, express your interest, and ask if there’s any work that you can do.

Mac Prichard:

In your work with your clients, Aaron, what’s been the best approach, for both finding organizations that have a need that a client can fulfill and for the client to be clear about what he has to offer?

Aaron Good:

Absolutely, it’s… you know, you want to evaluate the organization, and what you know about a particular department, and go to somebody there with, “Here’s what I have to offer. I have an interest in library science and I have a background in crafts. I know you guys do some book restoration. Do you have a need for someone to come help out a few hours a week? If not, how else could I be helpful?” And that’s sort of combining the informational interview with this offer of volunteer work.

Mac Prichard:

It’s an entrepreneurial approach, isn’t it?

Aaron Good:

Absolutely.

Mac Prichard:

You really are creating your own job, aren’t you?

Aaron Good:

Absolutely.

Mac Prichard:

Why, in your experience, do employers say yes to those pitches?

Aaron Good:

I think it’s… I’m thinking of it more as individual people and not as employers. That individual people get excited when someone gets excited about the work that they do. If you came to me and expressed interest in the sort of work that I do, I would love to tell you about it and show you what goes on, and I think people love that sort of interest.

Mac Prichard:

A listener’s been volunteering for say, 6 months, it’s a new field, and there are one of two outcomes here: the person decides it’s a dead end, what do they do next?

Aaron Good:

It’s okay to move on. It’s okay to move on from a volunteer position that no longer meets your needs. I mean, if that person, say, is unemployed and is finding that at least it provides structure, purpose, and connection, I’d certainly keep working with that.

Mac Prichard:

When I say a dead end, I mean they’ve decided, “This is not the field for me. I want to try something else.”

Aaron Good:

Got it.

Mac Prichard:

They do want to move on, how can they…what benefits will they still get from that experience?

Aaron Good:

Mac, I think they’ll get a sense of self-efficacy, and accomplishment, and an awareness that this is a method for at least feeling something out, because getting a result that this isn’t a career for me, while not as useful as this is the career for me, is just another data point that people find really helpful in changing careers.

Mac Prichard:

For somebody who does try out a new field and they grow to love it, it hasn’t led to a job offer immediately, how long should they stay with that volunteer work?

Aaron Good:

I think that really depends on, I think, the amount of time that they have in their days, in their weeks, and how much energy do they have? Is this something that they find provides meaning and connection?

I think if it’s not turning into something, they should still have an eye towards building connections there that they can then use as references in the future and so, reminding the people who work at the organization what you have brought, what you have provided and the sort of work that you have done and the projects that you have been on.

Mac Prichard:

Well, Aaron, tell us, what’s next for you?

Aaron Good:

What’s next for me is providing some online training with a colleague of mine on compassionate communication; so that’s using emotions and communicating non-violently in the workplace and that can sort of help increase team effectiveness and customer interactions.

Mac Prichard:

Terrific, I know people can learn more about that work and the services you offer by visiting trailheadcounseling.net.

Now, Aaron, we’ve had a good conversation about how volunteering can help you change careers. What is the one thing you want our audience to remember about that topic?

Aaron Good:

I would say don’t limit your volunteering to only positions that are listed on a big website. Feel empowered to create your own positions, to reach out and to build connections because those will pay off in the long term.

Mac Prichard:

Here’s my key takeaway from my conversation with Aaron: you’ve got to have a goal.

When you’re thinking about different opportunities for that volunteer experience, you have to know either where you want to go or that you feel that you want to road test.

And once you have that, it becomes a lot easier both to find the publicly posted volunteer opportunities or to create your own adventure.

Well, if you’re struggling to get that focus in your job search, we’ve got a guide that can help. It’s called, Finding Focus in Your Job Search.

You can get your free copy today.

Go to macslist.org/focus.

It’s a step-by-step guide to setting goals that you can find today at macslist.org/focus.

We’ve all heard this saying: Follow your passion and the money will come.

Our guest next week says this is terrible advice. Grace Lee will tell us why you don’t want to follow your passion when you pick a career.

Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.

Volunteering while in the midst of a job search might seem like a waste of time. After all, why would you work for nothing and waste your skills and expertise? But the fact is, volunteering can be an effective way to change careers, says Find Your Dream Job guest Aaron Good. Volunteering can provide you with purpose and allow you to stay connected to other people. Those connections can sometimes turn into actual jobs. In addition, volunteering may uncover hidden interest in a field that you never considered. 

About Our Guest:

Aaron Good is the founder of Trailhead Counseling. He helps his clients improve at work, find a new career, or learn the practical mechanics of a job search.

Resources in This Episode: