SPECIAL ADVERTISING SECTION: More Career Advice
Putting your best foot forward
Get Connected: Volunteer!
So you are actively looking for a job. Your resume pops and you have uploaded your professional profile onto every search engine you can identify. You are working with a search firm and considering every possible job you can unearth, and nothing has yet panned out. It may be time to add one more strategy toyour networking opportunities: volunteering.
Volunteering serves a multitude of purposes for a job seeker, not the least of which is filling a void for the organization that benefits from your time and talents. But volunteering will also help you feel that you have accomplished something important, getting you up and away from the computer, the TV and the same old grind. You are also meeting new people and adding valuable network connections.
Consider the other benefits of volunteering as well. You get to hone your skills and practice your interview responses. Surely the person who engages you as a volunteer will ask you to describe your skill set. And once you are actually volunteering, you will undoubtedly be asked about your background and job search. You can use these opportunities as a dress rehearsal for job interviews.
Be prepared with well-thought out answers to these questions. Imagine that you are talking to a recruiter or future boss. Make mental notes of questions that you were not expecting. Think about the answers you gave: Can you rework a response to sound more on point or less self-deprecating? Are you able to take the message from a question and weave it into an interview as an important talking point?
Another benefit of volunteering is that it helps fill a gap on your resume. When you are asked by a recruiter what you have been doing while looking for a job, being able to say that you volunteer X hours a week shows your team-player attitude and your willingness to stay active and contribute.
So where should you start? Where you volunteer can be just as important as volunteering itself. Look for volunteer opportunities related to your area of expertise and organizations that can benefit from your knowledge. Think about which organizations interest you and match yourself to their needs. If you are an IT person, look for new organizations that need help creating and maintaining computer systems. If you volunteer in a field or for a cause about which you are passionate, that is certain to translate into a great impression you can make on everyone you encounter.
With so many nonprofit organizations in the Washington metropolitan area, you are sure to find one that matches your field. The Web is obviously a great place to start; one such site with extensive lists of local opportunities is volunteermatch.org. remember also to ask fellow worshippers, neighbors, former coworkers, friends and family for volunteer leads.
Your plan should also include having several clean copies of your resume on hand to give to anyone who seems interested in learning more about you or who might have a job lead for you. Ask for contact information when handing out your resume so that you can send a follow-up e-mail to that person. Include your resume and a cover letter in your e-mail.
Do your best to make a good impression on the volunteer coordinator. Be on time, roll up your sleeves, be neat and polite. You want to be invited back often to fill the organization's needs and to become known in the community as a go-to person and team player. You will be making the world a better place ¿and you never know what new doors may open for you because of it.
Laura Nickle and Janet Dopsovic of Communi-k, Inc., in Falls Church, Va., exemplify what can happen to a job seeker who volunteers. When Nickle was seeking volunteer staffing for a large annual meeting she coordinates for the Reston-based Housing Association of Nonprofit Developers (HAND), HAND Executive Director Jill Norcross suggested a friend of hers, Janet Dopsovic. "Janet is one of those supremely qualified people who found herself out of work in this economy through no fault of her own and had been job seeking for months," Norcross said.
"I remember thinking that it was too bad I couldn't hire Janet at the time, because in just my few hours of observing her, it was clear she was just the kind of person I'd want to have on staff," Nickle said. "Janet was the first of the volunteers to arrive and the last to leave, was proactive when it came to seeking ways to help and was the one who offered to stay and staff the registration table when the others went in to see the event program."
Nickle may not have been thinking about adding staff at the time, but two months later when part-time and project work became available, she thought of Dopsovic, who welcomed the chance to add to her resume, make some money and hone her skills. She has since landed a full-time job.
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Laura K. Nickle can be reached at email@example.com.
This special advertising section was written by Laura K. Nickle and Janet Dopsovic of Communi-k, Inc., in conjunction with The Washington Post Special Sections Department. The production of this supplement did not involve The Washington Post news or editorial staff.