Volunteer Work and Your Job Search by Jean Spahr

“Service is the rent we pay for being. It is the very purpose of life, and not something you do in your spare time.”

Marian Wright Edleman - founder, Children’s Defense Fund


“When you serve your community and the world around you your life will take on a fulfillment and a deeper meaning that you can’t obtain any other way.”

Jodi Hannah - film and television producer and director


“Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.”

Albert Einstein - physicist who developed the general theory of relativity  



It’s often said that looking for a job is a full time job and there is merit to that statement. Yet, how many of us can effectively devote eight hours a day or 40 hours per week just to necessary job search tasks such as writing and disseminating job-search documents, researching, networking, and interviewing?  In any case, there is a great way to round out a job search agenda - volunteer work.


If you are currently volunteering, don’t stop and consider adding a bit more volunteer work.  If you aren’t serving your community as a volunteer, please seriously consider starting.  Finding meaningful volunteer work is similar to looking for a paid position.  Identify your top skills and the places that you would like to put your skills to work.  Research interesting places of service, apply online, and contact the volunteer coordinator. You likely will be interviewed and may have a background check before you move forward into a volunteer role.  The process can take longer than you expect.  Volunteer coordinators are often extremely busy people with competing obligations.


Most nonprofits welcome volunteers and excellent starting points are nonprofits that are important to you or someone close to you. If you have a heart for children, volunteering at a school, church, library, or hospital working with youngsters may be ideal. If you love animals, you may be well suited to volunteer at a shelter or the zoo. An organization like the American Red Cross offers a variety of volunteer opportunities.


Using the skills you wish to use in your next job is a great way to keep your skill and confidence levels high.  Keep in mind that most volunteer coordinators are looking for a six month or 12 month commitment. That means you will want to pursue a volunteer role that can be fulfilled outside your business hours. This will allow you to interview for positions and accept employment without needing to abandon your volunteer work. There is a good deal of flexibility in most volunteer work, but some roles require consistent attendance while others more readily accommodate breaks.  Ideally, once you resume paid employment, you will still be able to continue your volunteer service on some level.


Why becoming active in volunteer service?  The following are just a few reasons:

● Experience the wonderful feeling that comes from helping others --- especially those who cannot help themselves or do anything for you in return.

● Contribute to the greater good and improve your community.

● Establish yourself as an asset and earn a great recommendation from your volunteer coordinator.

● Meet folks with interests similar to yours and minimize the feelings of isolation that often arise during unemployment.

● Keep your skills current and develop new skills.

● Impress HR professionals and hiring managers with your motivation and commitment. 


How can you uncover volunteer opportunities that interest you?  There are many ways, including these below:

● Start with nonprofits that resonate with you. Research websites and see what opportunities exist or might be possible. A librarian can help uncover lists of nonprofits in your target area. A simple google search will also provide information.

● Talk to people and ask for suggestions and recommendations.

● List your favorite skills and recall times you have successfully used those skills.  How might your skills translate to an organization?

● Newspapers often feature articles about nonprofits that could use your help.

● Review websites that list volunteer opportunities and/or profile successful volunteers to discover interesting roles.


Here are three websites that list multiple volunteer opportunities: