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Get a Job by Volunteering

With the average unemployment period now lasting eight-and-a-half months, many job seekers are grappling with ways to meaningfully bridge the gap between being out of work and getting hired, especially young adults who may lack experience. For some, the solution is volunteering. There may be no paycheck, but in some cases it's proving to be a means to a gainfully employed end.

When Jocelyn Jackson, 24, lost her communications job in 2009 she continued to volunteer at The Studio Museum in Harlem where she had been helping out since 2008. Suddenly without a 9-to-5, Jackson began to see the unpaid position as more than just a fun pastime activity. She saw it as a way to enhance her creative skills, such as photography, and maybe even use her experience to transition to a new career. "I started to consider how my association with the Studio Museum could evolve into something more," she says, from expanding her knowledge about art and photography to learning how to be a teacher and educator.

There are many professional advantages to volunteering, say career experts. "It gives you a great working experience while you're out of a job and allows you to meet people who may help you with your job search," says Barbara Safani, a career strategist and President of Career Solvers. "If you are in a volunteer situation, people share information. These are leads that will not be put on a job board--It's really a piece of your networking strategy."

If your goal is to volunteer and boost your chances of getting a job, your approach needs to be strategic, says Safani. In addition to the obvious advantages of choosing volunteer work that's relevant to your career, her tips include:

1. Take a Leadership Position

Whether you sit on a committee or lead a group of volunteers on a field project, having a leadership role is great for your resume. If a hiring manager asks if you've ever managed a staff before you can describe your leadership experiences as a volunteer.

2. Raise Your Profile

While you're at it, boost your visibility within the organization. "It may be as simple as being the person who sits at the registration desk," says Safani. "With this role you get a sense of who's coming by and what they do."

3. Don't Volunteer-Hop

Being authentic, consistent and visible at one volunteering organization can increase your chances of getting a job either within the non-profit world or beyond, as people regularly notice your hard efforts and passion. Don't stretch yourself thin by volunteering at 5 different places. "People have to remember you. You don't want it to be, 'Who's that person?'" says Safani.

Jackson now receives a paycheck from the Studio Museum, as her volunteer efforts transitioned into a freelance education program coordinator. "I think volunteering is extremely important, whether you are gainfully employed or not, she says. "It's not about simply volunteering to volunteer. It is about finding a place that really speaks to the person you are and your present and future desires. Find your cause and follow it."

Photo courtesy MoBikeFed's photostream on Flickr

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