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Tips for turning volunteer jobs into full-time jobs

Whether you’re entry level or an executive, volunteer work can lead you toward a more meaningful career path.

Tips for turning volunteer jobs into full-time jobs

Volunteer experiences can take you far in the workplace.

People often talk about volunteering with a nonprofit organization as if it’s their true passion, while they think of their regular jobs as just a means to a paycheck. But why not use your volunteer experience to springboard into a career that is meaningful to you?

It’s a myth that paid experience (in other words, a job) is the only experience that counts in the eyes of a prospective employer. Employers may in fact view volunteer experience as equivalent to formal work experience. Skills are skills, no matter how you acquired them, and volunteering offers hands-on training that can take you far in the workplace.

Check out some ways that participating in volunteer programs can lead you to a more satisfying career.

Land your first (or second or even third) job

Volunteer work can help make your entry into a new field a bit more seamless, says April Klimkiewicz, Fort Lauderdale, Florida–based career coach and owner of bliss evolution, a career-coaching business.

For example, say you’re going to be completing a project-management certification soon. “It would benefit you to try those skills pro bono at a local small business,” says Klimkiewicz. Hands-on experience like this is so valuable when it comes to developing a skill—and employers like to see that you have applied your skills in a real-world setting.

Of course, it helps to be strategic about the types of volunteer opportunities you pursue so they can also support your career goals, says Vay Cao, Ph.D., a career coach and founder of Free the PhD, a passion project helping scientists find work outside the academic research environment.

“My number-one tip for finding volunteer positions that will pay a job seeker down the line—either in qualifying a person for a full-time job or for opening doors in general—is to adopt a promotion mindset to volunteering,” says Cao. In other words, approach volunteering in almost the same way you’d choose an internship.

For instance, if you want a community outreach job, you should prioritize finding a similar volunteer opportunity (such as organizing an alumni gala or industry conference), says Cao. If you’re looking for bookkeeping work, try to volunteer as a treasurer for an organization. It’s all about finding the right match so you can develop transferable skills.

Discover hidden talents—and possibly a new career track

If you’re a more experienced worker, being involved with volunteer organizations allows you to try new things. By day, you may work as a retail manager, but through a volunteer group you belong to, you realize you have a knack for designing promotional graphics that can be used for social media marketing. Or perhaps you work as a paralegal who was the top fundraiser for a charity drive. Turns out, you’re pretty good at encouraging people to hand over their money for a worthy cause.

“Through volunteering, you can discover that you really enjoy something new, and you never would have gotten this experience or this knowledge about yourself otherwise,” says Klimkiewicz.

From there, you might be able to transfer that newly discovered skill to your workplace and build upon it. Talk to your supervisor and find out if there is a way to leverage your newfound talent—maybe it’s requesting a lateral move or to be on a special project committee. If there’s no way to capitalize on your new passion, it might be the motivation you need to start looking elsewhere for opportunities at other companies.

Thinking of making a more sweeping change? For anyone looking to make a mid-career switch into a new field, look no further than volunteer work, says Cao. Many of her clients (and even Cao herself) had no prior work experience outside academia upon entering the job market, she says. And for many private sector employers, that could be a nonstarter that puts you into the “under-qualified” pile.

“It was my volunteer activities that gave me an important leg up, giving me a chance to compete for the job I got when my educational background alone was not enough,” says Cao.

Let your volunteer work inspire your next job search

Feeling uninspired at your job, but love your unpaid work?  Here are some volunteer-inspired career paths to consider:

If you volunteer as:

Consider:

A big brother/big sister

Becoming a teacher or daycare worker

A fundraiser for a charity

Becoming an institutional development professional, or working for a nonprofit

A charity event coordinator

Project management roles

A career coach or mentor

Exploring career center positions

A PTA treasurer   

Bookkeeping jobs

A social media coordinator for your local school/church/community group

Social media coordinator jobs for brands or local businesses

Build a well-rounded resume

Whatever you do, make sure you include your volunteer jobs on your resume. Omitting it just because it’s unpaid work is a huge mistake. Just be prepared to walk interviewers through a detailed example that demonstrates the skill from your volunteer gig. 

“The best predictor of success in a job is past success with similar work,” says Klimkiewicz, “so even if you never held a paid position before, with the volunteer experience, an employer would see that you are more qualified for an entry-level job than someone with no experience at all.”

Could you use some help describing your experience on your resume so that hiring managers sit up and take notice. Get a free resume evaluation today from the experts at Monster’s Resume Writing Service. You’ll get detailed feedback in two business days, including a review of your resume’s appearance and content, and a prediction of a recruiter’s first impression. It’s a quick and easy way to highlight your passion for the work and the value you’d bring to any organization.


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