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4 Ways Volunteering Provides an Edge in the Job Market

If you are like the millions of Americans impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and me, you are probably feeling a real desire for in-person interactions.

A year spent social distancing has led to isolation, loneliness and negative health effects for many. That situation has been further exacerbated for the 9.4 million unemployed people, who have anxiously watched most (or even all) of their professional and personal connections dwindle due to job loss and the pandemic.

Much of my research focuses on how people can find and foster resiliency in the face of unemployment. Along the way, I’ve found useful strategies that help unemployed people cope and safeguard their well-being. A compelling way to counterbalance the impacts of social isolation and job loss is to volunteer.

Many unemployed individuals may feel like they can’t volunteer their time because they need to be focusing on searching for a new job and making money. What they don’t realize is that having a purpose and helping others can provide the energy and self-confidence needed to find work.

Volunteering also helps increase social connections, professional contacts and skills and experiences: it puts people into contact with a range of professionals, and that network—as well as the experience gained by volunteering—can also boost a candidate’s chance of securing a paying job.

A 2016 Impact Survey from Deloitte revealed that 85 percent of hiring professionals expressed a strong interest in candidates with volunteer experience. A similar study conducted by the Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency that promotes volunteerism, tracked more than 70,000 jobless people between 2002 and 2012; it found that those individuals who volunteered had a 27% better chance of finding a job than those who did not make time to volunteer.

4 Ways Volunteering Can Improve Anyone’s Job Search

  1. Volunteering Keeps Skills Current. Volunteering is a terrific way to maintain skills. Volunteering provides individuals with an opportunity to develop their skills and to gain additional transferable skills employers want. It also helps fill any work history gaps that might exist due to transitioning between jobs, moving from the corporate to a non-profit sector, or rejoining the workforce after a career break. I interviewed dozens for whom this was true. One such individual was Lou, an unemployed technology professional, who kept his IT skills fresh by doing pro bono consulting to answer computer questions for friends and business associates.
  2. Volunteering Provides a Talent Boost. Volunteering is a great way to test out a new job or career field. Skills-based volunteering can be particularly beneficial. For instance, an individual interested in healthcare might consider volunteering at the local hospital to gain firsthand experience and insights. They might also gain recognized qualifications employers are looking for, such as CPR or hospice certification. Volunteer experience also demonstrates initiative and drive to future employers.
  3. Volunteering Feels Good. Volunteering is great for both your body and mind. A recent Harvard Medical School article notes that there are both mental and physical benefits of volunteering. Volunteering can alter our self-perceptions, building confidence and self-esteem, which can really aid a job search. Feeling good about oneself is directly correlated to feeling like we have a role in the world and feeling noticed and valued. When Heidi, a financial services professional, found herself suddenly unemployed, she began focusing on helping others to set aside her resentment and anger from job loss. She volunteered and started a new non-profit organization that quickly grew to a 900-person online community focused on fostering connections and helping the unemployed. Volunteering helped Heidi to rebuild her confidence and leave behind the “poor me” attitude.
  4. Volunteering Combats Social Isolation. Unemployment often means we don’t leave the house all that often. Volunteering, either formal or informal, is one strategy to prevent and address social isolation. For example, Remy took her dog, Isabella, to the nursing home each week to visit residents. She discovered that the visits changed her entire outlook on life. She realized that she could sit home alone and mope or do what she loved—be with her dog, Isabella, and help people in need.

Now that the pandemic conditions have improved, many organizations such as community centers, tutoring services, food banks, tutoring programs, art workshops, and animal shelters are scaling up their operations and need volunteers. Formal volunteer programs provide a ready-made option for connecting with volunteer service and fighting off the isolation blues.

How to Find Volunteer Opportunities

Individuals seeking to volunteer can look for opportunities in their neighborhood or communities or reach out to their favorite nonprofit to see if that organization has needs that align with their skills and interests. Another option is to check out any of the following online sources:

  • GREATNONPROFITS: An extensive database that provides contact information for thousands of local, national and international nonprofits
  • Volunteer Match: A search engine for matching people passionate about and committed to a cause with nonprofit volunteer opportunities.
  • Catchafire: An online catalogue of hundreds of volunteer projects for every skill, time commitment, and cause.
  • AmeriCorps: A search tool to find a volunteer opportunity in your geographic area.
  • AARP: An online directory of volunteer roles searchable by cause or by the program.

Volunteering pays dividends regardless of working at a homeless shelter, serving on community boards, helping children, assisting older people, or any other volunteer endeavor. As a result, society is richer. And, for job seekers, the opportunity can really strengthen a resume.

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