Can Volunteering Land You a Job?

3 minute read

Most of us want to do good. Whether this involves helping an elderly neighbour or tutoring kids in deprived inner city communities, we like to feel that we are contributing to others’ well-being.

What many may not realise, though, is that volunteer work can be a great path to a worthwhile and fulfilling job in the non-profit sector – a job that allows you to fulfill your personal missions.  Lots can happen while engaged in volunteering, and the experience(s) can pave a way to new directions for career pursuits.

Here are some tips that will help you move from volunteer to paid career pro.

  1. Volunteering During Unemployment = Opportunity

It happens. A business closes or downsizes; there is conflict between an employee and his supervisor or between a career professional and the direction a company is moving. Whatever the reason, there will be gap between the final day of that job and the next position. And there is that uncomfortable spot on a resume, where there is no work.

What a perfect time to volunteer.

Suppose you have always had a passion for animals in dire circumstances – abandoned, abused, and now in shelters looking for love and attention. Your skills, however, have been in marketing and content writing. Volunteer at an animal shelter. You may begin with physical care of the animals or manning the front desk during certain hours. But, gradually, you can demonstrate your marketing skills and talents by offering to create a post or two on the shelter’s social media pages or creating an ad copy and submitting it for consideration.

The key is to take initiative once you are a volunteer and show the value you can bring to the organisation. If they clearly see that value you are likely to be offered a position when it comes available.

  1. Be Patient and Professional

Here’s the thing about non-profits. They tend to have tight budgets, and their paid employees are in place. They often do not have the flexibility to create new positions just because someone has arrived with skills and talents they need.

Your task at this point is to be unassuming. You are a volunteer, not a staff member. But, gradually, you can demonstrate your skills and talents and make yourself invaluable. And be willing to pitch in when and where help is needed.

A charity sector professional named Nancy Delaney began with Oxfam America as a volunteer. She spent 2 years in this capacity before being offered a paid position. What she did was pitch in on anything that needed to be done – even mundane tasks that were not particularly rewarding. But, over time, her superiors and supervisors saw her value and began to throw more work and projects her way.

Soon, she was accepted by others as almost an employee. And when a position opened up, she was a natural selection.

As to being professional: here is a pitfall to avoid – your ego. You may have a higher level of education than many of the staff at an organisation; your skill level may be at a higher level. What you do not want to do is overshadow regular employees at the organisation by asserting yourself and your skills/talents into their position responsibilities. Offer to help, but know your place and stay in the background. You will otherwise come on too aggressive and “pushy,” and others will not favour you.

  1. Start Early

If you are still in university and know that employment in the non-profit sector is your goal, begin by volunteering whilst studying instead of taking on an internship with a for-profit company.

When I was in college, my roommate was from Japan. She wanted to stay in the UK after graduation and was exploring some entrepreneurial opportunities. She found a list of best translation agencies published by Pick Writers and signed up with a few of them. During that time, however, she also did some volunteer English-to-Japanese translations for a couple of non-profits – two local and one remote. She was able to develop a portfolio of her work and ultimately landed a government position where her translation skills were sorely needed. She is still doing this today.

  1. On-the-Job Tips

These should be understood but it does not hurt to repeat them:

  1. Work hard: your supervisor(s) will notice – believe it. You will develop a reputation as someone who is dependable and who takes task responsibilities seriously. You want to become indispensable.
  2. Take pride in your work: no matter how menial a task may be, do it right and do it well.
  3. Make your goals known: you don’t have to be aggressive about it, but it is fine to let a supervisor know that you really want a position within the organisation. That supervisor may just become the advocate you need.

Volunteering is important. Without volunteers, non-profits could not meet their goals of service to others. They simply do not have the budgets and often not all of the expertise they need to implement the action plans they have designed. And volunteers fill a lot of these gaps. Volunteering gives the volunteer that great feeling of being of service that benefits their communities and/or beyond. Go into volunteering with your sense of mission, pour your heart into it, and it is quite possible that you may land the job of your dreams.

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