You’re reading...

Job Search

How to Make Unemployment a Career Stepping Stone? Volunteer

Work for Habitat for Humanity can be a career stepping stone.

Work for Habitat for Humanity can be a career stepping stone.

Donating your time and expertise to a non-profit during a layoff isn’t just a good way to stay busy, lift your spirits and earn points with the universe. It can be a career stepping stone.

A story in the March 17 Wall Street Journal – The Laid-Off Can Do Well Doing Good – cites three unemployed executives who say their charity work has given them an opportunity to make new contacts, pick up new skills and advance their careers in ways the working world couldn’t accommodate.

Laine Seaton, who was laid off from her development-management position for an Arizona nonprofit in December, now volunteers about 35 hours a week at five nonprofits. She says that beyond supporting causes she cares about, she’s been able to bolster skills that will help her find a new position.

Her volunteer work with the North Country Conservancy involves setting up a fund-raising plan, grant writing and strategic planning. “In a regular job, you’d need to be a director or management staff to be able to do these types of things, but on a volunteer basis, they welcome the help,” says Ms. Seaton, 41, who says she plans to add these skills to her résumé and tout them in interviews.

Alexandra Lee, who lost her job in marketing, is volunteering at the Denver Red Cross’s public-relations department. She told the WSJ “she has been exposed to elements of marketing she wasn’t involved in before, like analysis of market research. In a recent job interview, Ms. Lee was able to speak about measuring viral-marketing efforts. ‘My volunteer work seems to be falling in place perfectly for some job opportunities,’ she says.”

Lee said she plans to put the volunteer work on her resume, a tactic many executives in the job market, question.

The rule is only if it is related to your career and proves you’re an outstanding asset, said  Abby Locke, a career coach. But do it right, she warned in a column, “Resume Tactics for Job-History Puzzles” for TheLadders Career Advice.

Paid or unpaid, industry experience is still valuable — especially for career changers. If you have been involved in substantial volunteer or community work, use these resources to demonstrate leadership skills and experience relevant to your new goals. Take a look at this example of unpaid marketing experience that will boost your executive resume.


“Volunteer, International Dance Group Inc.”


“Marketing and PR Experience” section: Marketing Department, International Dance Group Inc. (2002-2007)

Planned and executed advertising production, marketing materials, public relations programs and other special projects for start-up dance school. Generated creative marketing tactics targeting potential customers and event sponsors. Contributed talents and expertise on unpaid basis.

Volunteering shouldn’t be an afterthought. “If you’re unemployed and an interviewer asks ‘what have you been up to?’ you’re answer better not be ‘looking for a job’ ” one recruiter told me recently. “You need something to show for your time. Write a blog, start your own business, volunteer. You just need some way to account for your months and why not have something that will impress them.

Barbara Stafani, also a career coach, offers a guide to making the most of volunteering in another column for TheLadders Career Advice, “Volunteer Work: The Ultimate Interview.”

(Image of Habitat for Humanity by FirstBaptistNashville, CC 2.0)

Bookmark and Share
Job-Search Lessons From the Obama Campaign
The Many Types of Executive Recruiter


4 comments for “How to Make Unemployment a Career Stepping Stone? Volunteer”

  1. [...] number of volunteers may have decreased? Throughout the Summer, weren’t we all inundated with blog entries aimed toward the recently unemployed, encouraging them to volunteer to continue utilizing their [...]

    Posted by How Personal Branding is Hurting Nonprofit Organizations « Colleen Dilenschneider- Know Your Own Bone | October 17, 2009, 2:27 pm
  2. Some great points, John! I particularly liked your note to not treat volunteering as an afterthought. Not only will you eventually have to answer that hard question about your time, but the people you are volunteering with and those you are volunteering FOR will be depending on you!


    Mark Cummuta

    BLOG: CIO Job Search: A Real Life Chronicle (
    BOOK: “Ignite Your (Career) Passion!” Co-Author (NOTE: be sure to use discount code “Le5Ord3r03″ !) (

    Posted by Mark Cummuta | May 4, 2010, 9:13 pm
  3. [...] work makes for a good entry on your resume. I have volunteered with one of the Girl Scouts’ councils to conduct telephone interviews for [...]

    Posted by Working for free has value « Days of Dejection | November 11, 2010, 1:26 pm
  4. What¡¦s Taking place i’m new to this, I stumbled upon this I have found It positively helpful and it has aided me out loads. I am hoping to contribute & help different users like its aided me. Great job.

    Posted by Tabela | June 12, 2011, 4:38 am

Post a comment