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How to Find Volunteer Work That Leads to a Paid Job

Locating the right opportunity, or creating one, could ultimately lead to a paycheck.

By Julie Shifman | May 7, 2012
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Julie Shifman is an inspirational keynote speaker, career coach and the author of Act Three: Create The Life You Want. Her website is actthree.com

As I recently wrote on Next Avenue, a volunteer position can help you land a paying job. But how do you select a volunteering position and an organization or company where you can find the fulfilling opportunity that could lead to a job?  

As the president of Act Three, a career coaching firm, I’ve discovered seven ways to do it:
 
Choose your volunteer experience carefully. Serving food at a soup kitchen is a nice thing to do, but probably won’t be the kind of assistance that will lead to a job. Instead, spend the time to think about which causes you care about the most and what type of volunteer position is most likely to help your career. For example, if you’re looking for a marketing position, you should seek out an organization that can use your marketing skills as a volunteer.
 
Visit websites that list volunteering opportunities. A few excellent ones are: Volunteermatch.org, Encore.org, Idealist.org, Createthegood.org, Serve.gov, Unitedway.org (click on the button labeled "Volunteer"), Seniorcorps.gov (for people 55 and older), and Escus.org (for executives and professionals).
 
Ask a friend for recommendations. Most of us have friends who have volunteered or worked for a nonprofit. They can be excellent sources of inside information about those organizations. When one of my clients wanted to improve her chances of being hired for her new pursuit as a graphic artist, I introduced her to an organization where I was on the board. She wound up creating a promotional campaign for the organization, as a volunteer, which beefed up her resume and portfolio.
 
Create your own opportunity. If you feel passionately about a cause, want to build toward a paid career in this area, but can’t find a local organization to get you going, start your own. You might do this by partnering with an existing group that could benefit from your services. For example, if you care about teaching low-income children about dental care, you could partner with an inner city dental clinic to launch a school-based dental education program.

For help in creating a volunteering organization from scratch, use one of the free toolkits offered by Serve.gov. Its kits include ones on “how to organize a book drive” and “how to create a community garden.”
 
Form your own internship.  Marci Alboher, Vice President of Civic Ventures believes that an internship (paid or unpaid) is a great way to improve your skills and enhance your resumé. For example, if you're ultimately looking for a paid position in development or p.r., tell a nonprofit that you’d like to intern there by writing blog posts, a newsletter, or a fundraising appeal. “Carefully suggest a structure for the internship that lets you get out of it what you want," advises Alboher. She recommends checking out the website www.catchafire.org, where you can donate your skills and talents to a nonprofit. 

Serve on a professional association’s committee. For example, if you’re eager to get hired for a legal job, serve on a bar association committee to network and to show others on the committee your knowledge of the area. They may become impressed enough to offer you a paid position.
 
Volunteer to write for industry publications. This is a great way to immediately position yourself as an expert. Research and writing takes time, but a well-crafted article seen by the right people can turn into a calling card for prospective employers.

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