06/08/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Volunteering While Unemployed: Fill the Resume Gap

For thousands of Chicagoans being laid off from what once were steady jobs, it's the first time they've had to update their resume or remember decades-old interviewing tips they learned from their college career counselor. Job clubs have become popular, but when you suddenly find yourself at home, unemployed, spending your day searching, how do you keep your skills sharp and leverage all networking opportunities?

Volunteer. But do it using your professional skills.

It's easy to think of volunteering as a way to fill the hours in a day or to give back to a cause you care about, especially if you can no longer write a donation check. But for the highly-skilled professionals finding themselves laid off and in search of work, volunteering your professional skills is a great way to add substance to your resume, as well as network.

Not only does volunteering in this way provide non-profits with much-needed expertise, it also allows an unemployed professional to maintain skills, add an interesting -- and relevant -- resume line, network with a wider variety of people and get out of the house and into the professional world again. People often talk about having a "foot in the door." While the non-profit itself may not be able to offer a job, just being around other professionals will allow you to hear about opportunities first -- from a non-profits' clients, partners, colleagues' friends, etc. You may even be able to get some tips to freshen your resume or cover letter from your new "colleagues."

The first step is to find a volunteer position that truly utilizes the special set of skills a professional can bring to the table. Often, non-profits don't know where their volunteers are coming from or what kinds of skills they may have. Even if they are aware, non-profits don't always know how to ask for specialized help. And volunteers don't always think to offer it.

There are many online services that help link volunteers and nonprofits, including, which specifically matches professional women volunteers with non-profits. Explore what's best for you, but most importantly get out there and see what's in it for you -- at the same time making a difference.