Networking for a Job Through Volunteer Work

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Volunteering can be a great strategy for networking for a job. Local volunteer work can help you to gain experience in your industry and meet people who have the inside track on local job openings in your field.

As you may know, approximately 80% of jobs are never advertised, and finding those hidden job leads hinges on developing effective networking strategies.

Volunteering can be a great career builder and a good way to find unadvertised jobs.

Benefits of Volunteering for Job Seekers

Volunteering provides plenty of benefits to job seekers who are networking to find a job. Volunteer work can provide opportunities to:

  • Gain practical work experience in a new field or industry
  • Keep up to date professionally and help protect your career if you know you are going to be out of the workforce for an extended period of time
  • Build a network of business contacts
  • Develop current, related experience if your experience is out of date, and reduce the impact of gaps in your employment history
  • Feel a sense of accomplishment and build your self worth
  • Get out of the house on a regular basis and avoid the isolation that often comes from losing a job

Volunteering Can Help You Find Unadvertised Jobs at Other Companies

Keep in mind, your volunteer efforts can help you to find job leads at organizations outside of the company where you are volunteering.

If you are very up-front about your job-hunt, and you work to establish relationships with many of the people where you volunteer, they will all be able to pass along job leads to you.

Remember, most of the staff where you volunteer will have business contacts throughout your industry. So, even if the organization where you are volunteering is not hiring, another related company may be hiring, and there's a good chance that people within your volunteer organization will know about those job leads. They might even be able to put in a good word for you.

How to Negotiate a Great Volunteer Experience

Avoid going into a volunteer situation with the assumption that you will get any job that becomes available within the company.

Very likely, your volunteer work will give you an advantage if a job for which you are qualified becomes available within the organization, but your volunteer work is not a guarantee that you will get the job.

Ensure You Get the Most Out of Your Volunteer Experience

Volunteer work can be deeply rewarding and enriching.

Or it can be a disappointing, colossal waste of time.

Ensure your volunteer work is deeply rewarding and enriching by having an honest conversation with the person who will be supervising your volunteer work. Be clear about what skills you can offer an organization and describe what you would like to get out of the volunteer experience.

When You Meet With the Volunteer Coordinator to Discuss Possible Volunteer Opportunities...

Start by talking about what you can offer the organization.

When you initially meet with the person who coordinates volunteers, first let that person know about the skills that you have to offer so he or she will see how the organization will benefit from your volunteer work.

Note that when I refer to a "volunteer coordinator" I mean the person who you are meeting with to discuss the possibility of volunteering at a particular organization and/or the person you would report to if you were volunteering at a specific organization.

Many great organizations accept volunteers in a more informal way and do not have an official volunteer coordinator. I've just used this term for the sake of simplicity.

Sometimes organizations hesitate to accept volunteers because taking on volunteers can initially mean more work for the staff members who will need to invest time in training a volunteer.

If you let people know that you have valuable skills to offer, and they will benefit from the time they invest in training you, you will have a better chance of securing a great volunteer opportunity.

Next, explain what you want to gain from your volunteer experience.

Once you have described the skills that you can offer the organization, be very clear about your own goals for taking on the volunteer position.

  • You may want to meet more business contacts
  • You may want to improve your technical skills
  • You may want to stay active in your industry while you are not working

Whatever your goals are, communicate them to the volunteer coordinator at your initial meeting, and ask whether they feel you would be able to meet those goals with their organization.

For example...

Imagine you are good at facilitating workshops, but you just moved to a new city, and you want volunteer to make local business contacts.

You may say to the volunteer coordinator, "I have a lot of experience facilitating workshops, and I'd be happy to help your workshop facilitator in any way. I am new to the area and looking for work in this field, so I'm hoping this volunteer position will provide opportunities for me to meet people in the industry. Do you think that would work for your organization? Would you be able to use my facilitation skills, and would I have opportunities to meet people within the industry?"

A basic formula to use for negotiating volunteer work is:

  1. "I can offer you these specific skills."
  2. "I would like to benefit from this volunteer experience in this specific way."
  3. "Do you think that would work for your organization? Could you use my skills, and would I be able to achieve the benefits I am seeking?"

One Important Issue to Be Aware of When You Are Networking for a Job Through Volunteer Work

Be careful about volunteer work if you are receiving some type of unemployment insurance benefits.

In some locations, there are rules about the number of hours you are allowed to commit to volunteer work if you are receiving unemployment insurance benefits (also known as employment insurance in some countries).

The rules vary, but, in general, you are expected to be job searching if you are receiving unemployment insurance benefits, and if you are volunteering too many hours per week (even if you are volunteering as a networking strategy), you may not be able to do an effective job search.

If you are receiving some type of unemployment insurance benefits, and you want to start volunteering as a way of networking for a job, simply check with the government office that administers your benefits. The staff there will be able to tell you if there are any rules and restrictions you must follow related to volunteer work while you are receiving unemployment insurance.

With a little bit of negotiation, a volunteer position can offer great benefits to job seekers. It can provide good opportunities for networking for a job, building new skills and keeping existing skills up to date.

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