Me doing some 'unprofitable' volunteering in Zambia ;)

Me doing some ‘unprofitable’ volunteering in Zambia ;)

Nothing is more annoying to me than reading a job description where the company wants to hire someone who already has experience doing the exact same job. Now, I know where they are coming from. They don’t want to take a risk, they don’t have the time or capability to train someone, and they want the person to jump right in and add value on day one. But from a candidate’s perspective, how are you ever supposed to get that experience in the first place, if they all want you to have it before you walk in the door? Feels like a total catch 22 scenario, n’est-ce pas?


At the same time, I also work with a lot of people who have a decent amount of experience but in a different field or area of expertise. They have relevant knowledge, skills, and could definitely add a new perspective on things. And yet even when they were applying to roles that are slightly more junior, they too were getting little reaction in the job market.


The good news is that I have a suggestion for you. The bad news is that you’re not going to get paid – at least in the literal sense.


Volunteer. This is probably one of the single most overlooked, underappreciated opportunities to advance your career. So few people take advantage of this and if they do, only a handful use it strategically.


What I’m not suggesting is that you go out and seek a role where you’ll be feeding homeless people or tutoring kids from underprivileged neighborhoods. Before you tell me I’m a horrible person, let me reassure you that I of course think these are amazing and totally worthwhile things to do. But right now I’m talking about using volunteering differently – I’ll call it ‘profitable volunteering’.


Profitable volunteering is volunteering in such a way that you:

  • Add new, valuable (read: transferable to a corporate environment!) skills and experience to your resume
  • Gain impressive anecdotes that you can discuss in your cover letter, interview, etc.
  • Develop contacts and build relationships with people who can serve as informal mentors, sponsors, and references
  • Associate yourself with a worthwhile cause, whether a start-up charity or a very established development organization


Let’s say that you’re a lawyer who’s only done boring corporate finance work and you want to do employment law, there are a lot of groups that will help you do pro bono work. Or if you just graduated and you are desperate to get a job at a major magazine as a copywriter, find a small or medium sized non-profit that needs a person to take the lead on communications. Did you miss an internal job opening because you didn’t have experience with presentations? Join a group that involves public speaking and you can quickly prove your ability to win over an audience.


So now I’m guessing you’re wondering where you’re supposed to find these opportunities. Here are my two top tips:

  • Use to search for positions – either local or virtual. This is a great way to see what’s out there, especially if you know you want to beef up your resume but you’re not sure exactly how you’d like to volunteer.
  • Pick a cause that you’re particularly passionate about, say women’s rights, immigration reform, local economic development, the environment – whatever really. Then search for related organizations. Don’t worry if they don’t have a volunteer position advertised. Just contact them. Explain who you are, and what you’d like to do for them (making it clear you’d be doing it in a volunteer capacity!).


Not only does profitable volunteering give you tons of great material for your resume, my personal view is it also makes you a more likeable candidate. Not just likeable in that you seem like a good, altruistic person (though there is that!), but also because it shows you’re someone who puts their hand up, takes initiative, and goes the extra mile.


So, have you done any profitable volunteering? Or are you going to look for some? Let me know in the comments below. 

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Comments & Responses

3 Responses so far.

  1. Gerhard says:


  2. Boredom to Boardroom says:

    Thanks Gerhard! Glad you enjoyed the article :)

  3. Stina says:

    What does one do when they have a science degree but cannot find a job in their field. Working at a job that pays them barely enough money to survive, lives in an area where volunteering anywhere is very limited or can’t volunteer because they need to make money to survive. And can not move until they find a better job. Can’t catch a break, tired every avenue they can think of.

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