I have a huge employment gap in my resume as a result of trying to manage my disabilities. Finally, I am ready to begin my job search but am concerned about being away from the labour market for over five years. Many employment specialists have recommended that I volunteer as a strategy to fill in the gaps and build my career. How can I work for someone for free when I need to start earning income? What do you think?
Signed: For Free
Dear For Free,
Volunteer work can have tremendous benefit in your search for employment. If you didn’t have an internship or co-op opportunity through your college or university and lack a professional network and related work experience, volunteering can definitely help you. I am a big believer in volunteering; it’s how I got my job when I was in a career transition. I consulted with Reena’s leading volunteer coordinator Raquel Heayn who presents some of the benefits you should consider:
Gain related professional experience.
Research and identify organizations that have legitimate volunteer departments, represent causes that are meaningful for you, and that have possible spots where you can gain work experience, learn and improve your skills and qualifications. Heayn also sees volunteering as a way to identify a suitable career/employment goal and adds that “It helps you learn not only what you like to do, but what you don’t like to do”. Depending on your career goal, check out www.reena.org as well as www.charityvillage.com, www.volunteering.com, your relevant sector council or professional association as places to volunteer.
Build and Leverage Your Professional Network.
While you are volunteering, be dedicated and apply the same effort to your volunteering as you would as an employee. Always make sure your work gets done. Be as helpful as possible to others. Make an effort to have lunch with the team, and find other opportunities to start meeting other people at the company. Build a relationship with your supervisor because they may be able to refer you to a colleague for another opportunity. Volunteering also offers many opportunities to meet and work with different kinds of people and practice your soft skills too.
Help others and help yourself.
Research reports that adults who volunteer may live longer and healthier lives and it increases empathy and compassion. It’s not good to isolate yourself when you are looking for work. Volunteering can help you get out of your home and get involved in positive experiences, as well as get the positive feeling that you are giving back to the community.
Bridge the gaps in your resume.
Add your volunteer experience to your resume and social media presence. Employers value candidates who make a difference in the community; it helps you answer the question “what are you doing right now?” It also covers the gap in your work history and keeps you busy while you are looking for paid employment. Furthermore, adds Heayn, your volunteer experiences and accomplishments are very important and should be used to respond to behavioural and situational interviews.
Hope this helps.