Volunteer your way into a job

by Melany Hallam

Question: Do you find your volunteer work more rewarding than your paid work? Yes/No/About the same/I don’t volunteer

I went to journalism school with someone who got hired at CBC radio in Ottawa just by showing up in the newsroom and working – every day – until the news director finally gave in and started paying her.

In not quite so dramatic a fashion, a friend of mine found work as a teacher in Vancouver after starting out as a volunteer at an adult education learning centre. My friend was working as a legal secretary at the time and wanted to do something more meaningful with her life. Her experience as a volunteer and as a part-time (paid) education assistant prompted her to go back to school to get her teaching certificate. She then got hired at the same learning centre as fully-qualified teacher – because they already knew her from her time as a volunteer.

There are lots of stories like these amongst people who volunteer. You may think that they’re just isolated incidents, but not so! In fact, a recent study from the Corporation for National and Community Service, a US government agency that promotes volunteerism, found that people who volunteered had a 27% better chance of finding a job than those who didn’t. The survey tracked 70,000 people between 2002 and 2012, so that’s a decent sample of participants.

How does volunteering help you find a job? There are lots of opinions on this if you take a quick look online. Here are five of the most significant work-related benefits of volunteering:

  1. Make new contacts. Sometimes it’s all about who you know. And what better way for potential employers to get to know you than by working for them for free? It shows initiative and it shows that you’re reliable – crucial qualities that many employers look for. (For more on personal qualities employers look for, see “How to Stand out in a Crowd”, a previous Water Cooler post.)
  1. Gain self-confidence. If you’ve been out of work for a while, you may be feeling pretty down about yourself. Working for a volunteer organization can make you feel like you’re making a difference in someone else’s life, that you’re a capable and valuable person.
  1. Learn new skills. If you’re looking to change careers or start a career, volunteering can be an excellent training experience. This is what happened with my friend who worked her way into a teaching position. She learned tutoring techniques from teachers at the learning centre, and found that she really enjoyed the work. The rest is history!
  1. Boost your résumé. Employers prefer to hire people who have current work experience. A volunteer position is just as résumé-worthy as a paid one, and can also provide you with great references (as long as you do a good job).
  1. Get a feel for a new work environment. If you’re an older worker who’s been out of the workforce for a while or if you’re a new Canadian, volunteering is a great way to find out what’s expected of employees in today’s workplace. If you’re looking for your first job, volunteering can also give you a reality check.

There are likely almost as many benefits to volunteering as there are volunteers, help with your job search being only one of these benefits.

April 10 to 16 is Volunteer Week in Canada and there are tons of ideas and resources on the Volunteer Canada website here. Here at home, a good place to start is the Volunteer Powell River postings list here. And, of course, your employment counsellors at Career Link can also help point you in the right direction.

Happy Volunteer Week, everyone!

See local volunteer opportunities here


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