Thursday, May 14, 2009

Can Volunteering Help You Get a Job?

A friend of mine, who I will call Gretta, was laid off back in February. She was given a pretty decent severance package, as I understand it, but still, this lay off came as a complete shock. She had been working at this company for 20+ years! When Gretta and I chatted about the situation back in March she said she was actually doing pretty well. Her severance package had kicked in so she was fine financially. In addition, in some ways it had turned out to be a blessing - shortly after she was laid off a close family member had some serious medical problems. Being laid off meant that she had more time and energy to care for that person.

During this time and through all of April, she worked on some projects that had been on the back burner for awhile, did some cleaning and gave herself permission to enjoy some old fashioned rest and relaxation. Then, once all that was done, she started itching for something to do, so she did something I think is absolutely brilliant...

Gretta volunteered to help as the receptionist at a large nonprofit organization. This major charity (I guarantee you know it, so I am not going to mention it here) was looking for people to help out a few hours a week answering phones at their front desk - so, that is what she offered to do. She told me that her position was only supposed to be for a few hours a week, but now she is volunteering two full days there! I think this is a fabulous idea, and here is why:

1. It gets her out of the house and being productive. You know the science principle about an object at rest staying at rest? Well, it applies to people too. I know that if I sat home day after day without creating some kind of routine to my days, I would quickly get to where I wouldn't want to leave the house at all, let alone the couch! During these hard times when jobs are scarce it is so easy to be unmotivated, but a job, even a volunteer one, can help get you going and keep you moving.

2. It makes her feel good. Let's face it, even though being laid off is almost never personal, it still is a horrible feeling. Plus with the job market as it is right now, even the best candidates are going to be facing a lot of rejection, and rejection sucks! All this can rapidly lead to depression. However, any time you give to an organization you believe in, it boosts your mood. On top of that, this nonprofit company is appreciating her skills, time and effort. We all know that being appreciated feels good. So, she is doing something good for the community and also for herself at the same time.

3. It is a great place to network. I don't know that they will offer her a job or even if they are hiring - but she is working with a whole bunch of folks who can see her skills. If they do have an opening, they might think of her. If not, this is still a fabulous way to make new contacts. Who knows? Someone Gretta volunteers with might know someone looking to hire a candidate with just her qualifications.

4. Adds to her resume'. There are a bunch of ways that volunteering could add to her resume'. For one thing, Gretta won't have any big gaps. She can show that she was almost continually doing something, which always looks good to an employer. (This is true for freelancers too - don't leave that off the resume' just because it isn't a "typical" job.) Plus, this could add to her skills and her list of affiliations. I don't know that answering phones is a different skill set for her, but she might learn their database or contact manager system. Really, anything new she learns just adds to her portfolio of experience. Where she is volunteering also adds to her resume'. Awhile back she mentioned to me that she might want to get into the nonprofit sector, this is certainly a step in the right direction.

5. She can leave at any time. An advantage of being a volunteer - Gretta can pick up and go whenever she wants to. So, if the perfect job comes along, she can just let them know. It is a lot less hassle than leaving a part time job, and because she is only working two days a week, she still has plenty of time to pound the pavement looking for full time employment.

6. No stress. Gretta chose volunteer work that was easy, has no stress and that she doesn't have to take home with her. It makes her volunteer work fun. She gets to meet new people, help out an organization she believes in, and leave all the stress to others.

7. Tax break
. Okay, this is pretty low on the list of reasons to volunteer, but it is something she can take advantage off. She can track all her hours, mileage and so forth and put that on her tax return next year.

8. Will not effect her unemployment - I have heard people saying that they won't take a part time job because it will effect the amount of money they get through unemployment. The money they make won't make up for the money they lose. While I am not 100% sure I agree with that reasoning, I do understand needing every single penny you can scrape up. Volunteering, however, won't effect her benefits at all.

I am hoping she and I can sit down for a cup of coffee sometime soon so I can find out how it is all going for her. Our brief chat yesterday led me to believe she is really enjoying herself and looking for new opportunities.

Photo by: freedryk.


Slinky said...

My fiance did the same thing when he was out of work. He volunteered at the hunger task force and spent a couple of days a week getting a work out lifting barrels of food. When he got some interviews and was asked what he'd been doing in the two or three months since he was last working, he could say he'd been volunteering at a food bank. This went over very well at the nonprofit he ended up working for too. :) And like you said, it helped his mood a lot.

Dawn said...

I bet it went over well! Who wouldn't appreciate that? As an employer myself, I know I would. Excellent example Slinky, thank you!

Diana said...

yeah like at places like hospitals and/or schools... then when you apply for a job there, you can put volunteer experiance on resume and that looks good...

Dawn said...

Diana - Yep! Also, think about any employer asking, "So what have you been doing the six months?" Doesn't "Helping out a local women's shelter" sound better than "Sitting on my couch."? And like a say, it is a great way to meet people - all but two of the close friends I have right now, I met through my love of volunteering.