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by Cathy Vandewater | December 15, 2010


There’s bad news and there’s good news. The bad news: you’re out of a job, or your hours were severely cut. The good news? That’s a lot of spare time to make creative use of!

While you’re job hunting, take some time out to use another side of your brain and give volunteering a whirl. You’ll mix with people (i.e. change out of your pajamas and leave the house), gain perspective on your problems, and have a terrific excuse to try out an activity you’ve been curious about.

Here are a few more ways giving pays off:

1. It’s mentally refreshing

If the word refresh, to you, means repeatedly hitting F5 while staring at a job board, it’s time to get away from your desk. Since you can choose any volunteering activity you’d like, it’s a perfect opportunity to do the polar opposite of your usual occupation.

Constructing a set for a homeless kids’ theater? That’s a little more physical than your old accounting gig. Craving something low stress? An activity that just requires your time and smiling face, like spending time with the elderly, might be a welcome change.

2. You may uncover a talent

While we don’t recommend volunteering as a carpenter if you haven't had any training, certain other volunteer acts don’t require a lot of skill but can be a far cry from your usual fare—and can allow you to learn along the way without endangering body parts. Maybe you’ve been curious about teaching—try tutoring in your field of expertise. Or perhaps working at an animal shelter will fulfill your lifelong love of pets.

3. It will boost your self-esteem

If you’ve been fired or laid off, you may be nursing a serious case of self-doubt. When you work for free, anything you do is valuable and makes a difference: that’s one terrific anecdote to feeling ineffectual or expendable.

A volunteering gig may also be the perfect environment to work on your weaknesses. You’re not likely to receive harsh criticism if you mess up, so consider choosing an activity that requires a skill you’d like to improve, like customer service or leadership. You’ll get practice and feedback, but a lot less pressure.

4. Networking

If you’re exhausted just at the thought of another networking event or awkward coffee meeting with an old coworker, get your social fix from volunteering. Not only is it effortless to meet others, you’re likely to meet a much wider range of people than you would at an office, all with different stories, backgrounds, and perspectives.

And those differences just might be the key to kick starting your job hunt: that new acquaintance just might give you a lead on transferring your skills into their industry, rather than the one you've been struggling to find a foothold in. And, of course—new friends can also lead to direct job leads. But you already knew that…right?

5. Fills Resume Gaps

If you’re starting to get itchy about that growing gap in your resume, volunteering in your field can help to keep your skills fresh. You can add new credits to your resume—any team work or customer service count as valuable soft skills--or explore a sector of your business you never knew existed.

You may even be able to get a better idea of how to run a business, which is especially useful if you’re considering starting your own consultancy. And even if you're not interested in striking out on our own, a potential employer will see that you chose to stay active between jobs. And that’s a good look.

In short, volunteering is a great excuse to put yourself out there, participate, and try something new without worrying too much whether you’re doing it perfectly. Take advantage of the great need for acts of volunteering, large and small, and find one that works for you. Your confidence, versatility, and resume will thank you for it.


Filed Under: Job Search