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6 Tips for Volunteering Your Way to a Job

In a tight job market, it takes more than just a college degree to land an offer. Recent grads face some stiff competition and sometimes and you may have to be willing to stretch yourself a little in order to get hired. Volunteering is an excellent way to broaden your skill set and make contacts in your field but it can potentially open even more doors if you play your cards right. If you’ve been job hunting for awhile, here are a few tips that could help you convert a temporary stint into a permanent gig.

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1. Scout Out the Right Opportunities

Ideally, when you’re researching places where you’d like to volunteer you should look for something that aligns with your career goals and personal interests. When you’re passionate about the cause you’re giving your time to, showing up each day becomes effortless. It’s tempting to focus on larger organizations that may get more exposure but you shouldn’t overlook smaller agencies in your local community. While a more well-known non-profit tends to carry more cachet, it’s also easier to get lost in the crowd.

2. Figure Out What You Bring to the Table

Once you’ve identified a few likely organizations, you’ll probably have to apply for a volunteering position and you need to be able to summarize why you’d be a good choice. Assessing your strengths and skills can help you figure out what kind of volunteer role would be the best fit. If you’re not sure what you have to offer, you’re going to have a hard time convincing the organization to let you get your foot in the door.

3. Treat Volunteering Like a Job

Just because you’re not getting paid for your time doesn’t mean you don’t have to take a volunteering assignment seriously. If you commit to serving at a particular organization, you should approach it with the same attitude that you would a regular 9 to 5 position. That means showing up when you say will and doing whatever your role as a volunteer requires.

Maintaining a professional attitude is especially important if there’s the potential for a paying position to open up at some point. Most agencies tend to look at their existing staff first before going outside to hire so building up a solid track record can give you an advantage. Even if the organization isn’t looking to hire anyone, your dedication could earn you a glowing reference which could come in handy later on.

4. Foster Professional Relationships

Volunteering is a prime opportunity for building your network and you should be proactive about making new connections. Taking the time to get to know other people in the organization ups your visibility and it expands your circle of contacts. If your position involves reaching out to other volunteer organizations, professional associations in your area or local businesses you’ve got even more chances to build valuable relationships. When you’re ready to move on to something else, you may be glad that you put in the extra effort.

5. Be Open to Learning

Perhaps the most important benefit of volunteering is the wealth of knowledge and experience you can take away. People who have been with the organization for a while usually have a lot to share and it’s important that you be receptive when a learning opportunity comes along. When you’re challenged to do something outside of your comfort zone, don’t let yourself be intimidated into shying away. The more you’re able to pick up as you go, the more attractive you make yourself to prospective employers.

6. Play Up Your Experience

Once you’ve got some volunteering experience under your belt, you want to make sure that companies are aware of how you’ve been spending your time. This is particularly true if you’re trying to break into a specific industry for the first time or you’ve been out of work for several months. When you’re sending out cover letters or going in for an interview, don’t be afraid to point out what you’ve been doing and what kinds of responsibilities you’ve been taking on in your volunteer role.

3 Good Financial Reasons to Volunteer

Although there’s no guarantee that volunteering will lead to a new job opportunity, it certainly doesn’t hurt your chances. Even if you’re putting in just a few hours a month it could make a big difference to your employment prospects.

Photo Credit: flickr

Rebecca Lake Rebecca Lake is a retirement, investing and estate planning expert who has been writing about personal finance for a decade. Her expertise in the finance niche also extends to home buying, credit cards, banking and small business. She's worked directly with several major financial and insurance brands, including Citibank, Discover and AIG and her writing has appeared online at U.S. News and World Report, CreditCards.com and Investopedia. Rebecca is a graduate of the University of South Carolina and she also attended Charleston Southern University as a graduate student. Originally from central Virginia, she now lives on the North Carolina coast along with her two children.
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