By Kimberly Maul, Social Media and Editorial Intern at Idealist.org
Recently, the Corporation for National and Community Service found that people who are unemployed can increase their chances of finding a job by 27 percent by volunteering. This is because volunteering not only allows you to gain valuable experience and strengthen your skills but it also allows you to network with people and find a cause you are passionate about.
But once you have your foot in the door and are volunteering for an organization you love, what can you do to turn that experience into a job?
We spoke to two employees at God's Love We Deliver, an organization in New York that makes and delivers meals for people who are homebound with illnesses such as HIV/AIDS, cancer, and Alzheimer's. Kate Suhr, manager of volunteer operations, and Em Findley, communications coordinator both started off as volunteers at the organization before getting jobs there and shared what it takes to move from volunteer to employee.
Em, who started with a job in the volunteer department before becoming communications coordinator, said that the organization recognizes consistency, notices if a volunteer is often a no-show, and appreciates when volunteers communicate that they won't be able to make it.
"If you're going to volunteer somewhere because you want to work there, show up," Em explained. "Show up when they ask you. The dedication that people show never ceases to amaze us."
As a volunteer, you can meet many different employees at an organization. Naturally, you will interact with volunteer coordinators and others who assist in whatever activity you are doing, but you also have an "in" with the rest of the team. If you are interested in fundraising, ask to take the development officer to coffee to learn more. Or, if you have an orientation period, try to meet or connect with others throughout the organization. Even if you don't work with them directly, many people will be willing to meet you, simply because you are a volunteer.
"Having that face-to-face puts you light years ahead of everyone else, just because they know you," Kate added. "They are going to put your resume on top."
Even if you stop volunteering, you can still keep up the relationships. Kate had been volunteering for years at GLWD before getting a job there, but Em had only spent a week volunteering at the organization during an alternative spring break trip, and wanted to keep communication going.
"I sent God's Love Christmas cards and told them how I was doing and wanted to know about them," Em said. "I was touching base with these people and building relationships, saying how much I really appreciated my time here."
Kate Suhr and Em Findley from God's Love We Deliver
Pay attention to the organization's culture
Volunteers may come for a two-hour shift, but how late does the staff stick around? Sure, you can handle the slightly micro-managing team leader for your monthly gig, but what if you had to work together every day? If you are dealing with a sensitive issue or cause, how would that take a toll on you emotionally?
"There's definitely a shift when you work somewhere versus volunteering, and I was worried that I would become disenchanted," Kate said. But honestly, I was even more impressed with the agency and the people who work here." That's a good sign.
Be passionate about your work
Hopefully, if you are volunteering your time, you are already passionate about the nonprofit's cause and mission.
"Em had just gotten back [from a year living in France], and bounded into the office with all this passion and energy," said Kate, who was a part of the hiring team for that position several years ago. "Susan, our boss at the time, sent me an email while Em was still in the room saying, 'that's the person who should have this job.'"
"It really is helpful to be able to demonstrate your dedication to an organization before your begin as an employee," Em added. "To show that the mission runs deep, and you are willing to work hard."
Think about the skills you can show
At God's Love We Deliver, there are volunteers who work in the office, but many start out and work in the kitchen: chopping vegetables and packaging up meals. How can you make non-related volunteer work translate to a full-time, office job? Think about how you can demonstrate helpful skills.
"Being a volunteer shows your commitment and your work ethic," Em said. "It can show people's strength and shows that they are willing to jump in and do whatever." Think about how your volunteering demonstrates attention to detail, the ability to work independently or on a team, leadership skills, and even listening.
What other advice do you have? Do you still have questions about turning a volunteer position into a paying job?