Sisyphus was a trickster in ancient Greek mythology. His antics
so enraged his fellow Greeks that he was sentenced to spend his days rolling
a large stone up a hill -- only to have it escape his grasp and roll back
down, just before he reached the top.
Perhaps a lack of job-hunting
success has you feeling a bit like Sisyphus. You can't get a job because you
have no experience, and you have no experience because you can't get a job.
But take heart: you're not Sisyphus. You can take action to change your fate.
The answer is volunteering.
Volunteering helps you gain that all-important
work experience, which may be the final push you need to surmount the job-hunting
hill. And that's not all; volunteer work can offer much more. Volunteering
also increases your network of contacts. A recent survey evealed that nearly
71 percent of business managers made hiring decisions based on referrals from
their family members, friends or business associates.
can be an effective stepping-stone to the career you desire, but it's not
just a matter of signing up; many elements need to be considered. If you do
your research and plan carefully, not only will you have the opportunity to
serve your community, but you'll also be taking a step toward achieving your
Evaluate: determine your interests and skills and
what experience you hope to gain
For some, questions about life
aspirations are invitations to gush about abundant plans, hopes, and dreams.
But for the less focused and determined, these questions may be a source of
"Not all of us know exactly what we want to do in our
lives," says Marjorie Cayford, director of community referrals at a volunteer
center. "But usually, just taking some time to think about what we are good
at and what we enjoy doing gives us a better idea."
organizations employ volunteer coordinators who will help you determine which
opportunities best suit your interests and skills. However, Cayford says,
"The best way to find out which career you're suited for is to actually do
volunteer work in your field of interest and then see if that sort of thing
still appeals to you or not."
Prepare: get organized and ready
to acquire and perform a volunteer assignment
Joan Shibelbein is the
manager of career and placement services at a university. She, recommends
starting with a small assignment to ensure you don't ask too much of yourself.
She says that'll reduce the risk that you'll become discouraged by failing
to complete a large assignment. Too often, a disappointing experience can
result in a vow never to get involved again.
Shibelbein also suggests
getting involved in volunteering as early as possible. "Most people don't
realize that competition for the good volunteer jobs is getting stiffer and
stiffer," she says. "In some cases, you actually need to have volunteer experience
before you can get certain volunteer jobs!" When applying for a volunteer
job, Shibelbein says, "Present yourself to your volunteer supervisor the same
as you would if you were applying for a paying job."
jobs require you to submit your medical record -- and even your criminal record,
if you have one -- before accepting you as a volunteer. Many require specific
training or skills; obviously, you wouldn't be allowed to try to balance your
community league's financial books unless you already had some accounting
experience. Before you accept a volunteer assignment, you'll have to research
all of the assignment's requirements, and then prepare yourself to meet them.
Discover the volunteer opportunities available to you
says the majority of volunteers are recruited by friends and family members,
or by the organizations in need via the media. Another popular way to find
a volunteer position is by approaching the appropriate administrator at the
organization you wish to serve. This method is particularly effective in the
pursuit of paid employment because it demonstrates initiative to potential
However, Cayford adds, discovering a need and filling the
void yourself makes an even stronger impression. For example, it is fine to
say that you helped an organized group pick up litter along a highway, but
it is much better to be able to say on your resume that you organized a public
clean-up program yourself. Another way to find a volunteer job is to visit
a volunteer center in your area. These centers operate much like an employment
agency, posting opportunities on bulletin boards, in binders, or on a computer
Cayford says that most people who come to her volunteer center
are surprised to discover so many volunteering options. Getting involved
with service organizations is a great way to volunteer, especially if you
want to do charity work in your community. One drawback of service club work
is that you lose the freedom to choose and control much of your volunteer
experience. However, proving that you can work for a large organization demonstrates
that you are a good team player, a skill many human resource managers look
for when hiring and promoting employees.
Don't commit to any assignment
until you're comfortable with their cause, and the volunteer position you've
been assigned. It's not hard discovering volunteer opportunities: the key
is finding one that meets your personal and scheduling requirements.
may not be able to find the perfect job," Cayford says, "but if you prioritize
your goals, there are so many volunteer opportunities around that you're bound
to find something that works for you."
Participate: perform your
assigned duties and connect with colleagues, superiors and those who benefit
from your work
Employers are often looking for candidates who
have completed volunteer assignments that required specific attributes, such
as leadership or managerial skills. During your volunteer stint, take advantage
of any orientation or training that you are offered, and look for opportunities
to do more than is required.
For example, if you're volunteering as
a "gofer" at a newspaper because you'd like to be a reporter, don't be content
to run to the deli to pick up everyone's lunch. Ask if you can help carry
equipment to a press conference. Once there, observe how the journalists conduct
themselves: you could even practice taking notes on the conference yourself.
Afterwards, don't forget to add all the training and experience you've gained
to your resume.
When seeking paying work while volunteering, keep
your volunteer schedule flexible so that you are available for job interviews
on short notice. Be honest with your supervisor: let them know of your job-hunting
activities. This way, you've let the appropriate person know your priorities,
and you haven't promised more than you can deliver. It's also important if
you're counting on a good reference. Your credibility will definitely suffer
if your supervisor has less than flattering things to say about you to a potential
When you accept a volunteer assignment, you immediately expand
your personal network. Every person you meet is a potential lead to a new
job. Just as you should try to gain as much training and experience as you
can while volunteering, you should also attempt to meet and get to know as
many people as possible.
Remember, however, that befriending others
based solely on what you believe they can do for you is exploitative and will
reflect on you negatively. Treat everyone the way you'd like to be treated,
and keep an open mind; you never know who might help you and how.
end your volunteer commitment and begin working for money
your volunteer job is so enjoyable that you hate to leave it. But if you must,
Marjorie Cayford says, "Do so with courtesy. Leaving a volunteer job is not
the same as leaving a real [paying] job, so you don't have the same obligation
to give your employer two weeks notice, but it's a thoughtful thing to do."
If you get discouraged because you are not getting the experience
you expected, talk to your volunteer supervisor about adjusting your role
to better suit your needs. It is constructive to communicate to the appropriate
people your thoughts and ideas before leaving your post. Don't be critical
or negative; focus on providing feedback that will improve the situation for
the next volunteers.
Cayford says it's rare for a volunteer to attain
paid employee status within the same organization, although it does happen.
The more conventional way to procure paying work is by advertising your volunteer
experience and being persistent.
Whatever your reason
for volunteering, if you plan carefully and immerse yourself in the experience,
you won't regret it. Through volunteering you'll discover the truth inherent
in life's beautiful paradox: giving and being good to others is the best thing
you can do for yourself.