Can volunteering lead to a paid job? Volunteer work can help you in your job search, if you take the time to search for the right volunteer work.

Volunteers gardening in front of a building
Photo by Anna Earl

Why volunteer when you're supposed to be looking for a job?

Because it's the right thing to do?

Because it will make you a better person?

All true, but you need a job. You need to pay the bills, and how is an unpaid volunteer role going to help with that?

Well then how about this-

A 2013 study found that “volunteering is associated with a 27% higher odds of employment.”

That study was conducted by the USA-based Corporation for National & Community Service, who clearly want to encourage volunteering. How credible is the result?

A similar organization out of the UK, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), published a 2018 research briefing that painted a slightly more complex picture, saying:

Evidence shows unemployed people who volunteer frequently (on a weekly basis) reduce their chances of re-employment…

The few studies looking at the impact of UK government volunteering initiatives on finding a job show that only a minority of people who complete the programme find a paid job and say that it was volunteering that helped them do so…

However, volunteering can improve people’s skills, which may in turn help them find employment. Research suggests that volunteering improves both ‘hard’ skills, such as IT or customer relations, and ‘soft’ skills, such as teamwork and communication

So volunteering can help your job search, if you choose wisely…

I started volunteering at my local synagogue at a very young age when I could not have cared less about job search.

That's ok!

Donated time volunteering is never a waste, neither for you nor for the recipients.

Being active as a volunteer is a great way to meet people and discover things about yourself that can then lead to job openings and even new career directions.

Have these specific goals in mind when deciding on volunteer jobs that can best lead to employment.

Have any past volunteer roles of yours led to a paid job?


5 tough choices if you're wondering whether volunteering leads to employment

1) Aim for the right organization

Volunteer at the place that will most help your personal brand and job search goals.

If your goal is to be recognized as an expert, share your expertise on a regular basis at a local chapter of an industry association or chamber of commerce, or perhaps write op-eds or blog posts for that association.

If your goal is to be recognized for a specific job, offer your services in that role to a large charity that e.g highlights its volunteers on its website.

2) Aim for the right role

A volunteering position should appear on your resume just like any other position, and not all roles are equal with regards to your career.

Which role will enable you to make best use of your skills AND provide great benefits to the organization?

That combination is key to being a successful volunteer and getting recognition for it.

3) Aim for the right team

how to choose volunteer work 3

This is a tough one, I admit it. Just like when you get hired for a job, you'll rarely be offered a choice of who your boss would be.

Instead, practice your company research skills with this exercise: just like when you job search, before applying to volunteer for an organization, spend some time learning about the people whom you would likely work with and understand how they could help you in the future.

For instance, an (older?) well-connected supervisor would be preferable to someone who's also just getting started in the organization.

4) Aim for the right recipients

As part of the organization, who are the people or other organizations that you will spend your volunteer time helping?

Look for a role where you will get to help recipients directly so that people can learn about you & your work both inside AND outside the organization.

5) Aim for the right time to join

This is more relevant in some cases than others. Some organizations have more volunteer opportunities during busier times of year, are only active seasonally, etc.

Another angle is to consider: can a volunteer organization enable you to get into an otherwise inaccessible event, or even an otherwise inaccessible career, perhaps in an industry that's growing fast but where you lack experience?

Do what it takes to be in the right place at the right time.

Question of the article

Have you ever tried to use volunteering as part of your job search? Did it help? Tell your story in the comments.

What others are saying

I originally published a version of this article on the terrific Personal Branding Blog.

READ NEXT: 10 Best Practices to Volunteer Your Way To a Paid Job

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Jacob Share

Job Search Expert, Professional Blogger, Creative Thinker, Community Builder with a sense of humor. I like to help people.
  • There are more advantages for volunteering at a charity or non-profit:
    – working your way up the ladder at a regular company might take time and patience. Many time, you might be working at a small branch of a non-profit in which someone serious with ambition can ‘get promoted’ quicker. You can then use that increased status to show other potential employers.
    – many times, low-level employees might not be involved in managerial positions and lack the ability to get them. Volunteering at a non-profit may allow one to get experience at managing other people.
    – volunteering affords you the opportunity to meet and work with people in some of your spare time, time which might be otherwise wasted on just regular entertainment (tv, movies, surfing).

  • I love to volunteer and doing it to gain work experience was something I had enjoyed doing. Unfortunately, it has become another obstacle for me. Without a job, I cannot pay for the gas to get to my volunteer job anymore.

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