Need a Paying Job? How Volunteering Can Help

Volunteers at the USO on Camp Courtney in Okinawa, Japan, prepare lunch for the grand opening of a new location.
Volunteers at the USO on Camp Courtney in Okinawa, Japan, prepare lunch on Sept. 12, 2014, for the grand opening of a new location. (Cpl. Thor J. Larson/U.S. Marine Corps photo)

This content is provided courtesy of USAA.

Laid-off workers often become discouraged when they don't land a new job right away. If you're unemployed and looking for work, try channeling your angst into altruism and becoming a volunteer.

Also known as working pro bono, volunteering lets you use your skills and abilities to help others. And from a practical standpoint, it can help you beef up your resume, acquire new skills, make important connections and potentially land a paying job.

Benefits of Working Pro Bono

Still not sure? Consider these eight perks of volunteering.

1. Boosts Your Confidence.

Donna Schilder, a certified job coach based in Long Beach, Calif., urges her out-of-work clients to begin volunteering ASAP.

"I've worked with lots of people in recent years who were unemployed for more than a year," she said. "Typically, they completely lose confidence and don't interview well." Participating in a volunteer project can quickly turn this around. "Their confidence and enthusiasm go up immediately, and it's easier for them to talk to other people," she said.

2. Keeps Your Skills Sharp.

Workers often lose focus after receiving a pink slip. Volunteering allows you to practice your profession and feel vital and connected even when paychecks have temporarily stopped.

3. Teaches You New Skills.

Even if you have plenty of experience, working pro bono can be a great way to up your game -- and that's good for your resume. For example, graphic artists are often required to master new design software, and web developers are always learning new applications. Another volunteer perk: Pro bono teams may use online collaboration tools, which can sharpen your telecommuting skills.

4. Fills in the Blank Spots on Your Resume.

Working pro bono can impress potential employers. "Put the experience on your resume and list the specific things you achieved for the organization, just as you would with a paid position," Schilder said.

Did your efforts help a nonprofit achieve its outreach goal or realize a financial target? Did you contribute to a final product or achievement? These are all accomplishments that boost your resume. The more specific you can be, the better, she says. And don't forget to ask for recommendations from your pro bono supervisors.

5. Introduces You to New Work Possibilities.

Lots of people fantasize about working in the nonprofit world or taking their skills to a different industry. A pro bono stint can provide boots-on-the-ground experience in a new work arena, says Ann Burroughs, executive director of Taproot Foundation, which matches marketing and other professionals to projects for nonprofits.

A corporate accountant might offer skills in the social services arena while an insurance adjuster might volunteer at a community art gallery. "If you've been on a project for months and have given more than 100 hours to a particular nonprofit organization, you have a much better idea of working in nonprofits or in a specific sector," Burroughs said.

6. Expands Your Network.

By volunteering on a team or in an office, you meet new people. Likewise, many organizations, such as Taproot, host mixers or other events where volunteers can hobnob with colleagues, including potential employers.

7. Reveals Unadvertised Positions.

With a foot inside the door, pro bono volunteers often learn of unexpected job opportunities. Burroughs says some Taproot volunteers eventually landed paid jobs for her organization or the nonprofits they helped, such as the American Red Cross.

Schilder, who urges her clients to do pro bono work throughout their careers, has gleaned unforeseen perks herself by volunteering for an organization that helps women in transition rebuild their careers.

"In some cases, after they've gotten their businesses going, they've hired me as their coach," she said.

8. Puts Your Character Front and Center.

Showing good will toward your fellow man can score points with a potential employer. "If I was looking at a bunch of resumes and I saw pro bono volunteering, I would jump that person to the front of the queue, all other things being equal," Burroughs said.

How to Volunteer and Survive Financially

If you're not receiving unemployment benefits, you may need to snag a part-time job while you volunteer and seek the permanent position you really want. Schilder suggests tutoring, temping or consulting to help make ends meet.

Also rethink your budget, says USAA certified financial planner June Walbert, who recommends cutting expenses to the bone. Ax the splurges -- dining out, pricey coffee drinks, car washes and cable television.

Beyond that, do a little soul-searching to refine your spending plan. What is truly important to you in terms of lifestyle? More extreme financial makeovers might require downsizing from a gas-guzzling vehicle or temporarily bunking with parents or relatives.

"That's not to say you can't pay Mom and Dad some form of rent," Walbert said. "And many parents would enjoy having their children move home at least temporarily."

Extra: Getting Started

Wondering where to best apply your altruism?

Use this list of four organizations that connect skilled volunteers with nonprofit groups.

  • Taproot Foundation recruits web and marketing professionals to help other nonprofits.
  • offers local and international pro bono opportunities, searchable by location and skills.
  • lists nonprofits looking for qualified volunteer board members.
  • provides a nationwide clearinghouse for volunteer opportunities.

Create or find your own position by calling a local homeless shelter, school district or city government. When offering your services, explain how you could benefit the organization or community.

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