By: Mary Mulvihill Ed.D., Executive Director, Grace Institute
President Obama has called on Americans to make community service a part of their daily lives. Volunteering is not only a good way to give back to the community, but also a great approach to sharpening skills, networking with employers, and possibly landing a job. Whether you've been recently laid off, looking to change careers, or been out of the workforce for awhile and are now ready to get back in, a volunteer position could lead you down the path to full-time employment.
Have you ever dreamt of working for a museum or cultural institution, nonprofit organization or community group, a school, or for any other cause you've always had an interest in supporting? By volunteering, you'll be able to test the waters and see if this is really the career direction you would like to take. It is also important to find a volunteer role where you not only can bring your previous skills and expertise to, but one where you'll be able to develop new talents as well.
First, make sure you can commit to the organization or project you've signed up for. You won't impress anyone if you skip your volunteer time or show up late. Be ready to take on any project that is asked of you, no matter how mundane, and show enthusiasm. According to Sandy Diamond, volunteer coordinator at the New York City Chapter of the American Cancer Society, volunteers have gone on to full-time employment if they have the right combination of a positive attitude and a strong work ethic. "They have to be willing to do the tasks that are asked of them, whether it's phone calls, filing, computer work, or mailings. Just as important is asking if there is anything else you can do to help. Try to be as efficient as possible and do it with a smile," says Ms. Diamond.
Volunteering is also a wonderful way to network. Learn about the various departments within the organization, introduce yourself to all the employees, and find ways to make yourself as helpful as possible to the staff. They may think of you first if an internal position opens up or they may know of another organization that is looking to hire.
Even if you don't land a full-time job at the specific organization you have been volunteering at, it is still time well spent keeping your skill-sets sharp as you seek permanent employment. It will also help fill in any work history gaps on your resume while showing potential employers you are a motivated individual. There are a plethora of volunteer opportunities out there to choose from and you can start your search by asking friends or family or researching on the Internet. Some useful websites include Idealist.org and Serve.gov. You can search for hundreds of volunteer projects and positions based on the name of an organization, what your field of interest is (children and youth, the environment, women's issues, poverty and hunger, etc.) or location. The United Way of America (http://www.liveunited.org/)) is another terrific resource to find out about volunteer opportunities in your community. By volunteering, you'll not only have the satisfaction of helping your community, you may end up with a new and rewarding permanent position.
For over 100 years, Grace Institute has provided tuition-free, practical job training in a supportive learning community for underserved New York area women of all ages and from many different backgrounds. In the tradition of its founding family, Grace is dedicated to the development of the personal and business skills necessary for self-sufficiency, employability and an improved quality of life.