Many people seeking jobs or transitioning to different careers are told to volunteer. And I suggest the same thing because volunteer experience can make the search or transition an easier process.
Volunteering allows you to practice skills that you might not use in your current position. You can utilize management skills and build confidence in your leadership. And volunteering in an area that truly interests you can lead to networking opportunities.
When it comes to experience in the field, hiring managers do not care whether you got paid; they care that you truthfully demonstrate your knowledge, abilities, and accomplishments.
Teams working in collaboration to accomplish large goals is how most non-profit organizations succeed. Work on a committee to propose new ideas or partner with a board member to create a strategic plan to demonstrate marketable skills that directly transfer to your job goal.
Once you have established yourself as a dedicated volunteer, you can start accepting leadership roles. Don’t expect to be admiral of the fleet – heading up a small committee for the annual fundraiser is leadership.
Leadership is a broad term and some of us are more comfortable with it than others. You can demonstrate leadership in your resume and cover letter with strong verbs such as oversaw, directed, and guided. And in the interview, you can use stories from your volunteer experience to answer behavioral questions such as “tell me about a time you solved a big problem within deadline and on a tight budget”.
Everyone knows that networking is essential to getting the right job in the field or organization that you have identified. In a volunteer situation, you have the opportunity to meet many people you already have something in common with, so making connections will be natural.
Personal and professional relationships take time to develop, so don’t expect to make a connection that will lead to your dream job on the first day. However, with the organization as a link, you will be working with like-minded people who want to help others.
Recognize, too, that you can help others with knowledge, skills, experience, and abilities that you are offering to the organization. You can offer those same assets to the networking contacts that you make in your time as a volunteer.