How Working for No Pay Can Actually Pay Off

{Click here to read the original article on Careerrocketeer.}

Volunteering during periods of unemployment provides many benefits including networking, enhancing skills, and the prevention job loss induced insanity.

I am never going to find a job. My resume is posted on every job board including and I watch job boards with tenacity that celebrity stalkers would be impressed by; in fact, my average time to apply (ATTA) for newly posted jobs that may or may not match my background is 9 minutes 23 seconds from time of posting. I am linked in, fully branded, actively networking, and still jobless. I have cleaned, organized, and rearranged my house, twice. I can also, despite no legal background, predict the ruling with 99% accuracy on landlord disputes thanks to Judge Judy, Judge Maria Lopez and Judge Joe Brown. I know the baby does not belong to Drake, but to Drake’s brother, and was actually stolen from Jessica by the evil nurse Hilda. I reluctantly admit I spent an entire afternoon playing dress up in my wedding dress, a high school prom dress (not zipped up) and my graduation cap and gown (I pretended to be valedictorian). It is becoming increasingly clear, if I am unemployed much longer I will be able to donate my closet full of smartly tailored business suits to charity and invest in one really fashionable straight jacket.

Does this sound like you?

Nearly 3.2 million have been jobless for at least 27 weeks, which is a very long time to be absent from the working world if you are accustomed to only having a week or 2 off a year as a vacation. (During which you were hopefully enjoying your time away not fretting about it.) Furthermore, finding a job is the hardest job you can ever have…the pay is horrible, you want to quit every day, and it is very easy to become frustrated and disillusioned. If you find yourself in the unfortunate situation of a long period of unemployment, don’t spend your day’s self-loathing, stalking the job boards, and getting sucked into hours of horrible daytime television, instead use this time to volunteer your way into a new position.

I promise this is not just hippie, do-gooder, silver lining, find joy in helping others advice, but some practical advice in finding a new job and not losing your mind. Keep reading.

Volunteering is an ideal way to network and keep your skills sharp. Additionally, if you are hoping to transition your current skills to a different position, or are a new entrant into the job market, a volunteer position can be the ideal solution to bridging the gap by gaining experience. However, it is way more than just being about you; it is also a way to give back to a cause you care about. No way around it, you will be a do-gooder, which isn’t a bad thing at all. Non-profit organizations are struggling as much as for profit companies with funding cuts coupled with the increases in the demand for services. So back slowly away from the computer and go be a superhero… these organizations can benefit greatly from the much-needed expertise that a professional can provide. In return, you get the chance to maintain, learn, or improve your skills, network with a variety different of people, and add an interesting element to your resume. Most importantly, volunteering is a link to the professional (real) world, you know, the one in which we talk to real people and not just pretend we are giving a graduation speech in our cap and gown. It can also provide much needed motivation, self esteem, and self validation; also know as a warm fuzzy feeling. Plus, not spending 8 or 10 hours a day on a job search will allow you to approach the job boards refreshed and less cynical. Trust me, a positive attitude about your job search yields more productive results than starting your cover letter with “I am pretty sure no one will ever read this…”

Volunteering can also create an opportunity to hear about new positions from other professionals like clients of organization, partners, or from fellow volunteers. That’s right; I am suggesting your serve your way to the top, or at least the top of the applicant pool. Scandalous yet socially responsible.

When looking for a volunteer position, be sure to seek a position that will take advantage of your skills, goals, and personality. Take time to discuss your objectives with the Director or Volunteer Coordinator, so that they can capitalize on all that you have to offer. The simplest and most effective way to find an opportunity is for potential volunteers to directly contact organizations of interest and offer up your skills. Also, this is a good opportunity to practice promoting yourself.

Online services such as Volunteer Match or Network for Good are similar to job boards, and provide an opportunity to explore different organizations and their needs in one place. Another great resource is the Hands On Network; most metropolitan areas have a Hands On chapter that has a convenient monthly calendar of volunteer opportunities from a number of different organizations. Registered volunteers can even sign up to volunteer online. Some organizations require a volunteer application, interview and/or a background check on volunteers, depending on the nature of the organization. Research and decide what organization is the best match for your skills. Then wiggle your way out of your straight jacket or prom dress and start making a difference, not just in your career search but also in the lives of others. Plus, being able to tell an interviewer that in addition to your job search you have been spending time volunteering is much better than saying that you color coded the food items in your pantry, sub grouped by the contents of the ingredients, because, well, that is just insane.

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