As the old maxim says, it is easiest to find a job when you already have one. You may wonder why employment opportunities tend to rain on those who hardly need it. One reason is the network—that by working, you become aware of job opportunities either at your own company in others from you colleagues in your field. This is a pipeline for those already working—contacts that they have built up over the course of working act in their favor, before they send out that first resume. Plus they are more effective as a reference—people who give you leads as a business contact are aware of your great work at a partner, or competing, organization. So, the question is, how do you make use of a company’s professional network, despite the fact that you are not a salaried employee? The answer is this: This summer, as you enjoy the fair weather, you should make time to tap into the network of an organization you admire by becoming their newest, and best, volunteer.
In their newly released report, “Does it Pay to Volunteer: The Relationship between Volunteer Work and Paid Work,” the Center for Economic Policy Research explained that people who are not employed but who choose to volunteer more than 20 hours per week increase their chances of being hired during a period of high unemployment. Aside from the benefits of keeping your ear to the ground in the sector you’re trying to get into, volunteering is an excellent way to build and add color to your resume as you look for work. It really helps when you’re on a job interview to show that you are contributing to something with your time. Employers are always curious about your passions, and if your volunteer work speaks to their business, this demonstrates to them that you are committed to their field.** Your time has value, so the thought is, and should be, that no one is going to spend it on something they have absolutely no interest in.
Volunteering is also an excellent way to explore a field you’re interested in while helping them to meet their goals. As the free labor on hand, you get directed toward wherever your supervisors see a need. This is why, whenever you say to someone in an organization that you’re volunteering for them, their automatic response is gratitude.
Employers also tend to respect your time when you are volunteering because they are not paying you. This isn’t simply an act of compassion (or perhaps I am simply cynical). It is because there is absolutely nothing—not the promise of college credit (as in the case of an intern), nor monetary compensation (the situation of a salaried, contract, or temp employee)—stopping you from walking out their office doors if they are less than appreciative of your time and work.
That is their thought process. What should yours be?
Treat volunteering not simply as though it could lead to a job, but that it is your job. This mindset is what makes the best volunteers. They arrive at the office on-time, if not early, do their assignments as efficiently as possible, and with an enthusiasm that the regular employees tend to lack. The goal of the volunteer with a job in their sights is to make the employer wonder how they ever survived without you, and how devastatingly inconvenient it would be to lose you.
When searching for a volunteer opportunity in finance, your best bet is to capitalize on both formal and informal networks. This means not only submitting online applications (yes, in some cases, you need to apply to work for free), or putting the word out to friends, family, alumni networks. You can even, depending on the nature of the organization, and how bold you are, call an organization directly. Many of them, particularly the government, NGOs and non-profits, have volunteer coordinators, people whose sole function is to find the passionate and available a spot on their teams.
Free labor, every organization would love to have it. And while it may sound exploitative to some, when you’re job hunting, the company you volunteer should not be the only one reaping the rewards. If they are, you’re at the wrong place. Make use of their network. Gain exposure in their field. Show them that you’re so dedicated that you’re willing to work without pay (temporarily of course), but through your efforts prove to them that it would be a smarter financial decision for them if they gave you a salary.
**One thing to be wary of is the politics of the organization you are working for. It is great to cast your net wide, but in showing your volunteer work on your resume, keep in mind the audience you are applying to, and be aware of any conflicts, particularly in terms of ideology or mission, that it may have with your volunteer work. It is you own judgment call whether you want to list a company that has an intensely oppositional relationship with the place you are interviewing for. Just be prepared to answer questions about your motivations for volunteering there while applying for a job at a rival organization.
By Xevion B., Wall Street Services Reporter