Volunteering the Job Search Process: Can Volunteering Help You Get a Job?

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Lately we’ve been fielding countless questions about the connection between volunteering and the job search process. Out of all these discussions, we’ve filtered a few take-home messages that might be useful if you’re considering taking on some volunteer work for the sake of your job search. Keep these tips in mind as you move forward.

Volunteering? Or Working for Free?

Before you commit yourself, know the difference between volunteering and free labor, and recognize the implications of both. Setting up a registration stand for a cancer walk? That’s volunteering. Tutoring disadvantaged children after school? Volunteering. Exercising shelter animals? Tending the garden at the local house museum? Running a blood drive? Becoming a volunteer firefighter? All excellent ways to spend your hours while you search for full time work.

But working as an unpaid “intern” for a hedge fund? That’s something else altogether. Productive volunteering means lending a hand to an organization that supports the larger community and would need to draw resources away from that support in order to pay you. A hedge fund, a magazine publisher, a law firm, or any other for-profit organization can afford to pay you. And if they won’t do so, they don’t deserve your time.

This is true no matter what you may be told by the organization in question. In order to get something for nothing, a for-profit company may frame unpaid labor as prestigious, or as an “excellent opportunity”. But it’s a better idea to spend that time on your job search.

Besides, most hiring managers who review your resume can easily tell the difference between a summer spent organizing blood drives and a summer spent filing and sweeping for an employer who refused to pay you. The first demonstrates enterprise, multi-tasking ability, energy, and self-sacrifice. The second suggests limited savvy and questionable judgment.

Volunteering or Working for Free: What If the Distinction isn’t Clear?

If you aren’t sure which category an unpaid position falls into, ask yourself these questions.

  1. Who reached out first, you or the organization? A law firm offering a “prestigious opportunity” is a red flag. But what if you’re looking for work in large animal medicine…Should you call a nearby stable and ask to come over twice a week to help care for the horses? The answer: yes. As long as you maintain a balance between volunteering and the job search process.
  1. How comfortable is the situation? If you find that you’re being treated disrespectfully during your unpaid gig, or kept in the marketing department filing away when you’d rather spend time in research, make some changes. Take control of your destiny and be firm and clear about what you’d like to gain from this experience.
  1. Is this gig offering everything you expected? Are you making the contributions you hoped to make? Are you learning anything? You may have started this adventure in order to meet people in your field and expand your network. Is this happening? If so, excellent. If not, weigh the value of this commitment against the demands of your job search. If you need to leave or scale back your volunteer hours, do so. Don’t hesitate, don’t wait for permission, and don’t be manipulated into offering more than you’re willing to give.

For more help finding balance between volunteering and the job search process, contact the employment experts at CSS. We have the resources you need to keep your career on track.

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