Try Volunteering & Get Hired For The Job You Want

by Guest Blogger on 2012-07-1216

This guest post is by Mrs. Accountability, who writes for the awesome site, Out of Debt Again. She talks about how you can find your dream job by employing a fresh approach.

We all have to start somewhere. Some of us are lucky to find perfect, lucrative jobs right away and without much effort, while some of us have to be more practical, patient and proactive about developing our careers. Some savvy job hunters have discovered that they could get their foot in the door at their employer of choice by first doing an internship. Others have been successful by volunteering. Today, I’ll share my thoughts on how to get employed by becoming a volunteer first, and then I’ll share two real life stories.

  1. So do you have a dream job? Start out by thinking about what it is that makes you excited about getting up in the morning.
  2. Are there companies out there that offer work or programs that could help you develop skills for your ideal job? If you know what you really want to do, are you willing to be proactive about seeking out such a job (even if it does not pay all that well or at all)?
  3. Contact the person who oversees the department and ask if they could use a volunteer. One thing to keep in mind: Remember that this shouldn’t specifically be a volunteer position. For example, non-profit companies are always looking for volunteers to help with their clients in various capacities. They are not normally looking to hire a person to do specific work.
  4. Once you get the volunteer position, treat it exactly like a real job. Dress appropriately; be dependable; always be on time; work hard; keep your word; don’t goof off.
  5. After you have been there for a few weeks, inquire about the possibility of being hired.
  6. If you are told they can never hire you, then it’s time to start looking for a new place to volunteer. If you do feel it is time to move on, again, remember to treat it just like a job. Give a two week notice and continue to perform your job well.
how to get hired
Image from The University of Arizona

Stories From Volunteers Who Found Jobs

And now here are the two real life stories I promised to share with you. Following are real life examples of the creative job hunt.

Story #1: I Did It, You Can Too!

I was once a volunteer for my current employer. This was how it transpired: one of my neighbors who had become a close friend and walking partner told me about a disability event being held at a local non-profit and asked if I would like to attend as it would give me the opportunity to learn more about her disability. While there, the communications director and I hit it off, and she asked me if I would consider volunteering.

My friend attended social recreation classes at the non-profit, and every week or so she would tell me the communications director had asked about me, wondering how I was doing, and if I’d given any more thought to volunteering.

What Prompted Me To Become A Volunteer

At that time, I was on welfare benefits. Some few months later, a new law would come to pass that would limit welfare benefits to a total of sixty months. Given this development, I discovered that I needed to find a job soon. It did not matter if those in this situation were disabled or were caring for a disabled child. Welfare recipients were slated to lose their benefits once they reached a total of sixty months.

Naturally, when I found out about the new law, I panicked. I was instructed to make an appointment with my vocational counselor, who would help me figure out what to do next. The goal here was to figure out what I needed to get myself prepared for employment. At my vocational appointment, I was given a voucher to buy clothing suitable for working in an office. I was in desperate need for clothing as I’d been living at poverty level for many years and had nothing at all to wear in an office.

Around the same time, I called the communications director at the non-profit agency to see if I could get my foot in the door. She was delighted to hear from me, and I agreed to begin volunteering in two weeks.

Treat The Volunteer Position As A Real Job

Once I started volunteering, I treated the position as if I were an employee. I didn’t have a car at the time so I had to take the bus. I worked hard while I was there, exactly as if it were a paid position. Sometimes I even worked harder than the people who were being paid! I have always been very interested in computers, so I began to spend some of my time there helping the IT Manager. He realized what an asset to the company I would be, and began encouraging me to ask for a paid position.

It took me a while, but eventually, I worked up my nerve and asked for an appointment with the CEO. We sat in his office and he asked me what I’d like to be paid. I threw out a number, which was 33% higher than I expected because I thought he would want to negotiate. I was surprised and shocked when he hired me at the salary level I’d requested.

Perhaps my wanting to work only three days a week was a help, since that meant the company wouldn’t have to pay for health insurance and I wouldn’t receive any additional benefits.

I continued to be a great asset to my company and a few years ago, I began working four days a week which allowed me to have health insurance and benefits. As I’ve learned, when there’s disaster, there can be opportunity.

Story #2: My Son’s Experiences As A Volunteer

My second real life story involves my son, AJ. He recently got a job through volunteering, and his is another success story.

AJ was working part-time as a cook at a senior center. He liked the work, but his dream job was to work with computers. He inquired in the IT department at his job to see if they needed any help, but curiously they were not interested in volunteer help. I advised him to seek volunteer work elsewhere with hopes of getting his foot in the door. I asked my former IT manager if there were volunteering opportunities that may be suitable for my son, and AJ also began asking around (among friends and at church) if there were any open positions available.

Ultimately, there were three IT positions that opened up for my son. Eventually he chose one volunteer job while also keeping his 3 day a week job as a cook.

After volunteering for four weeks, putting his best foot forward, dressing professionally, showing up on time every single day, the company realized they wanted him on their team and he was hired. He gave his two week notice at his old job, and started working at his new job the next week. He is nearing his probationary period and he has high hopes that he will pass with flying colors.

As you can see, you might just get the job of your dreams by being persistent. At this time many people are unemployed; most people want to work, they don’t want to sit around watching soap operas all day long. But job opportunities are scarce and how do you keep from being one more applicant? Volunteering is one way to prove yourself and get noticed, which will hopefully lead to your dream job.

Have you ever been hired by working a volunteer job?

Created August 23, 2010. Updated July 12, 2012. Copyright © 2012 The Digerati Life. All Rights Reserved.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Lop at Rebates Money August 23, 2010 at 9:01 pm

Pretty interesting. I never thought of volunteering as a way to get a job. To me, volunteering shouldn’t have a financial motive, but doing something for the greater good. To each his own I guess.

Silicon Valley Blogger August 23, 2010 at 9:07 pm

Volunteering is traditionally done for altruistic reasons. But there is no hard and fast rule that says you can’t be hired after volunteering your time doing a particular activity. This brings to mind some new laws about hiring interns — in the past you can get them to work for you for free, but these days, all interns you put to work and who are revenue producing need to be paid.

Trading news August 24, 2010 at 2:49 am

If one is not afraid of being abused and has a lot of time, this approach is good. It is also good in terms of getting experience and finding out about inside rules, culture and etc. But how long can it last? Not sure.

Tracy August 24, 2010 at 12:30 pm

Wow that’s some great advice! I had never thought of that before. Volunteering to get your dream job seems like a great idea.

Issa August 24, 2010 at 11:32 pm

I did not volunteer but did consulting work at first because there was no regular position at the TV network where I wanted to work. Because they already knew me and knew my work, as soon as there was a position open (for legal counsel), I was the first one they offered the position to. 🙂

Amanda September 1, 2010 at 11:46 am

I’ve seen people get hired this way and indirectly I got hired this way. I saw one student actually get back pay for all his volunteer hours once he was hired. I am opposed to volunteering for long, having grown up in poverty…I don’t plan to passing that legacy on. At this point in my life though, I won’t work at a place without really gauging the environment and my future colleagues. Volunteering is a good way to evaluate a possible work environment. If you figure out its a dysfunctional environment, you can volunteer/work elsewhere.

Cris Kadinsky September 1, 2010 at 12:36 pm

I am retired and thought that I would look for a volunteer position. None available; all places filled by the unemployed looking to snag a job!!

Phyllis Wickliff September 2, 2010 at 7:58 am

When I felt the financial need to move out of a part-time teaching job into the full-time arena, I wanted to move back into the legal secretary field, where I had worked over 30 years ago, before my children were born. I was in my late 50s, and age was a factor, as well. I volunteered at a nonprofit legal clinic, with the intent of making sure that my legal knowledge and secretarial skills were up-to-date for the current job market. I did as this post suggested, treated the volunteer job as a real job, dressed for an office, worked hard, and made it clear that I was there to learn. Within 2 weeks, I was hired as a housing counselor, trained as a foreclosure intervention specialist, and 2-1/2 years later, am a paralegal and train other housing counselors for our entire state. Partially being in the right place at the right time, but mostly being willing to learn, work, and project the right image.

I also volunteered at my children’s schools when they were growing up, as an accompanist for music classes. That’s how I ended up with a part-time teaching position, both choir classes and private lessons, even though I didn’t have a teaching degree! (I DID get a substitute license, but taught choir classes for 12 years at the middle school and high school level, with 4 years paid salary by the school system, and the other years as an “adjunct” through fundraising that the music department did.)

I’m a real advocate for using volunteering to get your foot in the door, because it WORKS!

Mrs. Accountability September 3, 2010 at 7:37 pm

@Lop, that is definitely the way I always looked at volunteering prior to my own experience. I always saw it as something that stay at home moms did, or retired folks.
@SVB, the intern situation was mentioned when my son was volunteering at his company so that is definitely something that needs to be taken into consideration. From what I understand it doesn’t apply to non-profits, only for profit companies.
@Amanda, good suggestion to gauge the health of a company by volunteering first!
@Tracy, at the very least you have something to put down on your resume which answers what you were doing during the time of unemployment.
@Cris – don’t give up so easily. Look for a volunteer position specifically at a non-profit, they are always in need of help. Especially the senior centers.
@Issa, I’m glad you were successful like my son and me were.
@Phyllis, great success story! You’re right about being in the right place at the right time being a factor.

Thanks everyone for all the great comments!

CB September 4, 2010 at 8:11 am

I’m shocked at the negative responses to this article. I have always thought that volunteering is a great way to get necessary experience and contacts that can lead to a job. It isn’t about only aiming for the job, but about cultivating the skills to do something you love while doing good for others along the way. Isn’t that a win-win situation?

I began volunteering for just these reasons- skills, experience, networking. I found immense value in the process of skill building while helping others. After 3 years, I applied for and was hired at the agency for whom I volunteered. It really is a win-win situation.

Rebecca September 8, 2010 at 10:05 pm

This is a great idea — even if you can’t get hired at that particular company, being able to meet people and attend corporate events could be a great way to network and make connections that can help you to get your dream job.

Overseas Volunteering May 14, 2012 at 4:35 am

Volunteering is a great way of building up your skills. I work for a charity that sends young people on long term and gap year volunteering placements and so many get a great opportunity from graduate employers upon their return, it is great to see. If nothing else I have witnessed the change in confidence of these young people, time and again.

Dannielle @ Odd Cents July 13, 2012 at 3:22 am

I’ve always believed that volunteering can lead to great things for both you and the people that you are helping.

Silicon Valley Blogger July 13, 2012 at 6:53 am

As Mrs. Accountability has mentioned, at a minimum, you can add volunteering to your resume — this is work that beefs up your experience just like any other paid work. Keeping in mind what is legal (as we’ve discussed above), it’s akin to an unpaid internship. And as Dannielle and CB suggest, I believe it’s a win-win here, for both the volunteer and those they are helping.

Joe July 13, 2012 at 3:49 pm

Just a quick FYI: what you’re proposing — doing the work of a paid position for a for-profit organization — is definitely prohibited by law. The law is to keep people from doing really stupid things, like working for free — thus driving down the value of everybody’s labor. Is this what America has come to? Needing to engage in slave labor to get a job? Count me out.

Silicon Valley Blogger July 13, 2012 at 5:02 pm

Higher up on this thread, we discussed how unpaid internships are illegal. The distinction was made above and I pointed it out. So you are right that we need to be careful about what “volunteering” actually means here.

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