By Alison Green
If you're searching for a job, here's one strategy you may have overlooked: Volunteering.
Volunteering for a nonprofit organization in your community isn't just a way of doing good. It's also a way to keep your skills up-to-date, expand your network, and possibly even get a paying job. And there are all sorts of nonprofits from which to choose, whether you're drawn to community service groups, political organizations, or religious institutions.
Here's how volunteerism can help you in your job search:
First, you'll have work to put on your resume that fills a period of no activity. When a prospective employer asks how you've been spending the time since leaving your last job, you'll be able to talk about the pro bono work you've been doing for a worthwhile cause.
*You'll learn new skills. Volunteering doesn't have to mean stuffing envelopes or answering phones. You could design a website, organize an event, write fundraising letters, edit publicity materials, or organize the bookkeeping-the list is virtually endless.
*Volunteering can expose you to a new field. If you want to switch careers, volunteering is a great way to test the waters to see if it's really for you. You might get confirmation that you want to make the switch, or you might learn that it's not what you thought it would be.
*If you want to work for a particular nonprofit, then volunteering there is a great way to get a foot in the door. You'll get to meet inside players, form relationships, and get early leads on upcoming openings. And you'll also be able to demonstrate that you're reliable, talented, organized, efficient, skilled, and all the other traits people look for in new hires.
*By volunteering, you'll become a known quantity to an entirely new pool of people. You'll now have a whole new group in your network who knows from direct experience with you that you are (hopefully) reliable, competent, and sane. These traits are not to be underestimated on the job market. These people will then be able to vouch for you to others in their own networks.
And that's crucial, because employers will almost always go with the known quantity over a marginally more qualified candidate who is a stranger. They know from experience that a candidate who seems great in interviews can end up being flaky, disorganized, or difficult to work with. But someone they've worked with or who someone they trust has worked with? In that case, they know what they're getting. And volunteering lets you become that known quantity.
*You'll probably increase your self-confidence. It's easy to start questioning your value when you're out of work, especially if you're not getting many interviews. Volunteering can give you a sense of accomplishment that can turn your attitude around-and that often comes through to employers.
So consider volunteering. The worst case scenario is that it doesn't lead to paying work. But you've spent time helping a charity you feel good about, you've made new contacts, and you now have additional work to add to your resume.
Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Leader's Guide to Getting Results and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.