By Nandita Bose
It is the classic chicken and egg situation. You cannot get the job without work experience, and you cannot get experience without the job. So, as a professional seeking to restart your career how do you break out of this loop? A concrete step you can take to get work experience, gain references and update your resume during a career break, is to do volunteer work.
According to a report in the Washington Post, The Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency, found in a 2013 study that unemployed Americans enhanced their chances of finding employment by 27% when they volunteered.
Skills-based volunteering, i.e. volunteer work where you can leverage your specialized professional skills, with a nonprofit organization and in a project relevant to your profession, can propel you towards a full-time career. As a software engineer, for example, you could take on projects to strengthen and upgrade the technology infrastructure in a nonprofit. As a marketing professional, you could help with their marketing or other outreach efforts.
There are multiple benefits of skills-based volunteer work. While contributing with your core skills, you could acquire a host of new skills and competencies relevant to your profession. Along the way, you could build strong relationships with people who could provide references, help you rebuild your professional network, and take you a step closer to the next job.
Take the example of Rita Beckwith, a web developer who was reentering the workforce after six years off to care for her family. While on a break, Rita started volunteering in the public school her child attended. After initially working in traditional areas, she took charge of a revamp project for the school website, which also included launching a mobile app. While working on the project, she took courses to learn mobile web development. When the newly revamped website was showcased, it earned her a lot of appreciation. She also received a few job leads from other parents, many of whom were now her friends, and were happy to provide references. Rita saw an opportunity to do a skills-based volunteer project, which led her to a full-time job.
Kasey Ivanov, a former marketing executive seeking to return to work, also found her opening through volunteer work. In her case, she took the marketing efforts of a nonprofit in the environment sector from traditional brick and mortar methods to the social media. While on the project, she picked up social media analytics and grant writing skills. She then devised campaigns which created awareness for the cause, and brought in funds. Six months down the line, she received a marketing job offer from a corporate donor she collaborated with.
Both Rita and Kasey leveraged their core skills in the nonprofit sector, shored up new skills and found their paths to reenter the workforce through volunteering. Traditional volunteer work is unpaid but fruitful to the soul. Skills-based volunteering could be both enriching and an investment towards a paid job. Consider it a way to reenter the workforce.
You can read the full Washington Post article on volunteering.