Frequently these days I am approached by people wanting help with finding employment. Sometimes it’s people wanting to change the course of their careers and hoping I can point them toward a few good contacts or offer some advice. Sometimes it’s people who’ve lost jobs, been retrenched or are being forced to change for some particular reason. Sometimes it’s parents who are looking for job opportunities or wanting advice that will help their children start off in the workplace.
The good news is that despite tough financial times, I do have some good advice – and it’s advice that I’m delighted to have seen working fantastically time after time.
The bottom line is, if you can’t find work, volunteer – work for nothing.
While this may go against the grain with many people, after all we all want a salary – and even getting to a voluntary workplace costs money – if you really can’t find a job, or really want a change, consider working for a few months for free.
Voluntary work can, for a start, be as loose or formal an arrangement as you like. You may as a middle-aged person, wanting to change career path, volunteer to do part-time work for an business or a charity organisation that may be affiliated to an institution or business you would like to work more closely with (perhaps permanently for) in the future. As a young person starting off, perhaps throw yourself full-time, as an unpaid apprentice, into a job in your dream organisation. As a student, between lectures, or even while still at school, developing a portfolio of charities or businesses where you have had work-experience immediately puts you ahead of the pack.
If you’re looking for experience, connections, confidence and a voice, voluntary work is too good to miss out on – here’s why:
A different attitude
People who have “nothing to lose” start off in a workplace on the front foot and go forward in a win-win situation. Because volunteers are not new “employees”, management tend not to scrutinise them for their flaws but instead are pleased by their achievements. Because they know they are doing the organisation “a favour”, volunteers are naturally more confident, they are not worried about losing their jobs and subsequently far more likely to mix quickly and well with management, take initiative, and shine. Very often volunteers start off on a number of small jobs in an organisation, getting to know various departments and how they work. Volunteers are then very well positioned to find a niche, carve a niche and make themselves so valued in an organisation that they are soon offered a permanent position.
Develop new skills
New to the workplace or new to a particular area of work? Volunteering to do work in that area (and try it out and learn new skills at the same time) gives you a head start when it comes to landing the job you’ve always wanted. Volunteering allows people to get involved with new things and develop technical, social, and academic skills that couldn’t be learned in a classroom environment. It’s a great way of finding out whether it’s the job for you and for beginners in the job market it’s an excellent way of getting ahead of your peers.
New professional paths
Regardless of your age, career level or experience, building relationships with people is crucial and volunteering will introduce you to new professional paths and new people. Never underestimate the power of networking – volunteering offers the opportunity to cross paths, access to a breadth of knowledge from others, as well as, in many cases, quickly bond with people from all levels across your community – and sometimes even globally – many of whom you may otherwise never have had contact with. Working on a voluntary basis also allows one to develop people skills, vital in any walk of life.
Volunteering often includes first hand experiences and insights into things, people and issues that you may not normally have dealt with. Volunteering also helps you feel valued and gives a sense of achievement. This all adds to your lifelong learning and personal growth making you a better-rounded, balanced, matured person. The kind of person an employer is far more likely to pick when a job is available.