Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to find work that guaranteed you’d be doing exactly what you were trained for and wanted to do? Take a walk in this dream world with me for just a moment… you’d only have to work on projects that you had the desire to work on; you could say “no thank you” if someone pitched an idea to you that you didn’t care for. You could even set your own hours and take three-day weekends every week if you wanted to!
Does this sound too good to be true? Well, this kind of experience does exist. At some point in your career, after you have gathered a lot of experience (and built a great reputation for yourself), you might be able to create the scenario that is described above and get paid a lot of money to do it! However, in the meantime, there’s another way to enjoy a work experience like this that’s available to anyone who wants to take advantage of it. It’s called “non-paid” work experience (a.k.a. “volunteering”).
Too many individuals overlook this incredibly fulfilling and experience-building option because they’re focused on making money. Don’t get me wrong; I recognize that making money was probably an important factor in your continuing your education and choosing a new career in the first place. However, when it comes to earning a living in a career you enjoy, it’s important that you take a long-term view of your financial success as well.
When I was the director for a non-profit organization I used to request volunteer assistance all the time with marketing (website, digital video & pictures, etc.), social media (i.e. Facebook), and database management (donor, volunteer & participant information). Not only was I extremely appreciative of the volunteers’ efforts, I also wrote several fantastic reference letters for those individuals. In addition to gaining a work reference, those volunteers also got to “beef” up their resumes and career portfolios with the experience they gained from assisting our organization.
Obviously paying the bills is important (and I certainly wouldn’t recommend you quit your day job at the local coffee house so you can build a website for free). However, I would simply ask you this question: “Why not do both?” If you can clear 2-5 hours per week in your busy schedule for volunteer activities, you could build your resume up while you’re completing your education and help out a great cause in the process.
Here are three easy steps you can take to get started:
1) Take a look at your current schedule and identify 2-3 “slots” each week where you could perform at least 1-2 hours of volunteer service.
2) Identify 4-5 non-profit / service organizations in your local area that you are interested in providing volunteer services to. Organize them in order of “most desired” from top to bottom. Make sure to choose causes that inspire you. Working for free can quickly fall to the bottom of your priority list if you don’t believe strongly in the organization that you are assisting.
3) Beginning with your top choice, approach the organization as though you were applying for a job with them. Provide them with a cover letter (explaining what you are offering and why you are interested in providing your services to them), your resume, a portfolio of the kind of services you are planning to provide to them (if applicable) and references.