Need Experience? Get Some by Volunteering

Susan Hall

I've been encouraging students to put some real-world experience on their resumes. A good way to do that is through volunteering. It's also a way for the unemployed to stay active and gain new skills, because face it, most charities will just salivate at the prospect of you donating your time and effort.


And who knows who you'll meet there? I quoted from a article last Thanksgiving:

The way you land your dream job is unpredictable. It could surface in the least-expected place, such as in the serving line as you volunteer to serve Thanksgiving dinner at a shelter. You have no idea who might be volunteering right next to you ... or who they know.

But as author Gayle Laakmann McDowell points out in her book, "The Google Resume," you can help the charity while also furthering your career goals. I interviewed McDowell earlier this week. She says don't just serve food in a soup kitchen, sort clothing for the homeless or pick up roadside trash, though those might be worthy efforts for other reasons.


Instead, she suggests that if you're looking for a position in sales, raise money for the homeless shelter through cold calls and other connections. If you want to go into marketing, help a local organization target its advertising and promotional materials. In software engineering? How about sprucing up a charity's website or joining an Open Source project. These efforts can yield results that you can put on your resume. And that can be particularly helpful if you're trying to switch career tracks.


Volunteering can demonstrate your energy and ambition, allowing you to add new skills and broaden your network. But you'll have to work hard to see results and develop a good reputation. quotes Simon Tam, marketing manager for the Oregon affiliate of the "I Have a Dream" Foundation, which helps give children access to higher education, saying:

We're looking for volunteers who treat it like a job.

That article also points to organizations that match volunteers with organizations that need their expertise. The Taproot Foundation matches professionals with skills in human resources, management, marketing or information technology with nonprofits., offers broader matching services.

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