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Volunteering: An Approach for Job Seekers to Switch Careers or Industries in a Down Economy

Updated on July 2, 2011

Volunteer To Break In!

Volunteering your services for a start-up or non-profit organization can be a very effective way to “break in” to a new industry, role or career path.

Many business professionals who have been recently laid off and others who are still employed but feeling burnt out or bored want to try something new. But, considering our current economic conditions, this is one of the hardest times to make a career change. There are hundreds of experienced and well qualified candidates for every open position. If a hiring Manager has a choice of interviewing someone with 5-10 years of experience in a very similar role, versus a candidate with no experience, we can all guess what will happen.

You need experience to get experience and a start-up or non-profit organization may be the key to your success. Since the services you provide are free, many organizations may be willing to give you a chance to try something new, prove your skills and learn your craft. There may even be a senior level executive willing to mentor you. Once you have some experience under your belt, you are better equipped to go after the paying job opportunities.

Here are some helpful tips for job seekers who want to try volunteering as an approach to switch careers or industries:

Create A “Transition” Resume & Online Profile

Most traditional resumes highlight your accomplishments and work experiences from the past. In a “transition” resume you want to focus on what you want to do in the future and how your prior experiences are transferable to a new role or industry. And, most important, what you can and will do to drive business results.

Don’t stop when you create the paper version of your resume. Upload your resume file to the online resume databases on Monster, Careerbuilder and/or the niche job site(s) of your choice. And, be sure to update your online profiles on LinkedIn, Facebook and other social networking sites.

Resource: The Career Planning Section provides a number of great articles on resume writing. Learn more here. You may also want to seek the advice of a professional resume writer.

3 Tips To Power Up Your Resume

Learn To Speak The Language of Your New Career

Every industry and role has it’s own language. For example, some of the hot terms for Marketers include inbound marketing, social media and branding.

Complete some market research to identify what words, phrases and experiences are most applicable to your new career target. Read resumes and LinkedIn profiles from professionals that already have the type of job you want. Talk to recruiters and head hunters that are involved in the specialties that you seek. Read posts from Top Bloggers in the industry.

Learn the secret language of the career or industry that you want to break into- then incorporate it into your career documents, online profiles and verbal conversations.

Resources: The website Technorati is a great resource to find the Top Blogs about your career interests. The bookmarking site lists up to the minute articles and stories about a variety of business topics.

Image compliments of
Image compliments of

Approach Organizations Hiring Interns

Many start-ups and established organizations hire interns to cover key business functions because they have little or no funds to pay salaries.

Search websites like Craigslist and for intern postings in the jobs sections. Then, send in your volunteer proposal and “transition” resume.

Search Start-up Job Boards

There are a number of job boards that cater to jobs at start-ups. These include: Partner Up, Startuply, and Venture Loop.

You may also want to peruse the Mashable article, “18 Sites for Finding Start-up Jobs”.

Learn more about finding volunteer opportunities in your local community

Volunteer for a Non-Profit Organization

With the magic of the internet, volunteering for a non-profit is easier than ever. There are a number of websites which work like a volunteer version of a or Careerbuilder. The most popular websites are Volunteer Match and The Taproot Foundation.

Volunteer Match advertises itself as the “preferred internet recruiting tool for more than 69,000 nonprofit organizations". Their website, , gets more than 400,000 unique visitors per month.

The Taproot Foundation has a “Service Grant” program that provides millions of dollars in pro bono marketing, HR, IT, and strategy management consulting to hundreds of nonprofit organizations. Their website,, gets about 10,000 unique visitors per month.

Craigslist has a Volunteers section in their community area which may also be worth a visit.

Picture of Gateshead College, Compliments of
Picture of Gateshead College, Compliments of

Volunteer For Your College Alumni Organization

Alumni organizations often have a Volunteer Coordinator and usually need help with a variety of projects and task forces.

Find out what your college or university needs and perhaps you’ll find a great match. In addition to gaining work experience, Alumni Organizations provide fantastic networking opportunities.

Make The Switch!

It’s never easy for job seekers to switch careers or industries, even in a thriving economy, but volunteering your time to gain some real life experience can only result in positive things.

You will meet some great people, learn many new things, be challenged and help people in need. You will also get the chance to “try out” a new job and make sure you really like it, before making a permanent change.

Best of luck with your career change!

By Marci Reynolds, August 2009, All Rights Reserved


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    • profile image

      Binaya.Ghimire 6 years ago

      You are a wonderful guide, your hubs have inspired me to strike a new path.

    • lime light power profile image

      lime light power 6 years ago from NY NY

      Hmmm... actually that's something that never really crossed my mind (or at least that particular angle) - as a kid I started out volunteering at hospitals and libraries etc to build a little bit of a work resume, then, worked in a warehouse and yeah, it really, really helped. Never thought of doing it when I was older or thinking of switching jobs. Great hub.

      If anyone is interested reading this and might want to do some volunteer work, I work with a good environmental not for profit that is almost definitely looking for "ambassadors" - read the hub on it and then get in touch with either me, or you can email the organization directly from their web page.

      Voted Up!!!

    • Reynolds_Writing profile image

      Reynolds_Writing 8 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Nemingha...Thanks for sharing your personal story. I am so glad to hear that volunteering has helped you in your life and career!

    • Nemingha profile image

      Nemingha 8 years ago

      Yes, volunteering has helped me a great deal in the past. After my marriage broke up, I did not have any recent experience or current referees to offer prospective employers, so I volunteered at the Visitor Information Centre for a while. This led to an offer for casual employment, which soon became part-time and finally full-time.

    • profile image

      Dan  8 years ago

      Great article, well written with great ideas.....

    • Reynolds_Writing profile image

      Reynolds_Writing 8 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Barbara and Dohn.. Thanks for your comments. I am glad the article was helpful.

    • dohn121 profile image

      dohn121 8 years ago from Hudson Valley, New York

      I really liked this article and found it very useful. Thanks.

    • profile image

      Barbara 8 years ago

      Great article. A lot of good ideas. Volunteerism is also an excellent way for retirees to get back to work.