by Robert Hellmann
GetFive members are hardly strangers to the concept of using volunteer work as a stepping stone to a new job—particularly if they’re seeking to change careers. But they may not know that LinkedIn now makes it easier to find volunteer opportunities. (You can gain access by clicking here.) LinkedIn has partnered with some major volunteer matching sites to make this happen. Here’s why this feature is so great.
First, there’s the obvious reason: LinkedIn is making it easier for nonprofits and altruistic individuals to find each other. And, of course, you get the benefit of LinkedIn’s ability to leverage your network to find out more about an opportunity. Beyond that, however, if you are thinking about changing careers or industries (or if you are new to the job market or re-entering it after an absence), volunteering can be your ticket to the job you want. Here are two examples drawn from my clients.
Example 1: Transitioning into a New Field
Ben had been working 50+ hours a week as an intellectual property attorney for two decades. While working full time, he was looking to make a major career transition into a “community relations” leadership role at a hospital. On the surface, it seemed almost impossible, given the very different knowledge and skill requirements. Here’s what he did, over a period of two years:
- He volunteered his time at a community reinvestment association, eventually becoming a board member.
He joined the board of another healthcare nonprofit, eventually being elected president and recruiting a number of new board members by building ties to the community.
- Ben did not list this experience in the “volunteer” section of his resume and LinkedIn profile. Instead, he listed it at the very top of his professional experience (since it was as current as his attorney experience). He also highlighted his new “community relations” and “healthcare” experience right at the top of both his resume summary and his corresponding LinkedIn profile summary. He knew that the hospitals who might hire him were interested, first and foremost, in the experience he had that would enable him to help them—not whether he was paid for this experience!
Ben also made sure to use the language and keywords of the job he was going for, not his last job. This means that Ben de-emphasized his expertise in intellectual property, since this experience wasn’t relevant for his job target. Instead, he emphasized his ability to build relationships and serve in leadership roles.
Ben’s transition was hard, in the sense that he had to manage his volunteer responsibilities on top of his full-time job. But ultimately, the two years of extra work paid off: He found the career he was seeking, and the far greater job and life satisfaction that came along with it.
- Consider putting relevant volunteer experience at the top of your resume and LinkedIn profile, highlighting the experience in both the summary section and the chronological section.
- You don’t need to advertise that it was “volunteer experience” and you weren’t paid! Don’t diminish what may be highly valuable, relevant experience by labeling it “volunteer.”
- Emphasize the skills that are attractive to your job target; de-emphasize those that aren’t. Use the language and keywords of the industry you are targeting, not the one you are currently in.
Example 2: Re-entering the Workforce After a Long Absence
Sarah, an accountant, had dropped out of the workforce for 10 years to raise a family. Now she was ready to jump back in. But in her initial forays into the job market, she found that hiring managers were skipping over her resume in favor of candidates who had more current experience.
Sarah filled that gap by joining a nonprofit as a volunteer accountant. She immediately listed this new, highly relevant position at the top of her resume and LinkedIn profile. And importantly, she made use of the summary section in both, pitching herself as the consummate accountant and further diminishing the significance of the gap in her resume. As it turned out, the connections she made in the organization she volunteered for led her to the full-time job she was seeking.
- Volunteer assignments can fill a gap in your resume, making you appear more current.
- The relationships you build in your volunteer assignments can land you your next position.
Robert Hellmann has been a career and executive coach with GetFive since 2003. He is the author of the book Your Social Media Job Search.