Career Advice

Need A Job Or Want To Move Your Career Forward? Volunteer

Your career success could depend on your kindness and karma.

Yes, that’s right. Volunteer work and giving back could make all the difference when you’re trying to get promoted or hired – and not just for those who want a job at a nonprofit either.

Thousands of Americans have turned volunteer work into a magical place where connections and careers are reinvented, reinvigorated or reinstated, where skills are added or sharpened. Volunteering lifts confidence and opens doors, said Mark Stelzner, founder of, which uses social media to encourage individuals to mentor or guide jobless friends or acquaintances to new opportunities.

And with the Sept. 11 National Day of Service just past, and corporate charity campaigns ahead in the fall and winter, the timing is right for stepping in. So get started on some volunteer career moves with these focal points:

Know your goals. Those are career goals and volunteer time goals. “It’s all about knowing your destination: what am I trying to accomplish?” said Stelzner, who runs HR and social media companies. Begin by writing down what you hope to gain from a volunteer assignment and where that will lead you.  Maybe you do want to switch and get a nonprofit job. Or maybe you just want to broaden your network.

Do your homework. If you think choosing dinner is difficult at a Chinese restaurant with a 10-page menu, try picking one or two charities from the universe of nonprofits.  Narrow your search by subject or by your desire for a particular role at the nonprofit. Then go to one of the charity information sites — among them, Charity Navigator and Volunteer Match to research nonprofits on their spending, mission and more.

Choose a charity strategically.  Consider how it will look on your resume or to the hiring manager you want to impress. Experts I interviewed for a Washington Post article on volunteering your way to work suggested job seekers skip controversial causes such as abortion rights, very religious or any political interest groups – or at least keep them off their resume and Facebook Community groups. Food cooperatives, chambers of commerce, and arts and business groups can be valuable. Kids and pets are safe and popular areas too.

“For volunteerism to be effective, use it like a business opportunity,” said Stelzner. Look at it as a way to prove you’re a smart and likable person – and that your passion has a purpose.

If you’re eager to work for Apple or Proctor & Gamble, find out which charities they support in your city. Look on the company’s website for details or read its annual social responsibility report, which details charitable involvements, environmental initiatives and more.  Then sign on to help out at a cause connected to your employer of choice – and start meeting people who may end up recommending you for your next gig.

As long as you give your charity work your good and sincere efforts, the personal profit motive is all right.  “You may have other designs in mind — you’re being cold-hearted about it. But at the end of the day, someone or something is being helped by that time” at that nonprofit, said Stelzner.