When graduates and individuals looking to transition into my field ask, “How do I land that first job?” My answer is always the same. “Experience.” Predictably, the next question is, “How do I get experience if no one will hire me because I have no experience?” My follow-up answer is always the same. “Volunteer.” I KNOW. I JUST USED THE V-WORD. Calm yourself and just keep reading. It’s not all about the giving. There’s some receiving involved as well. You’ll see.
If you’ve never volunteered or you’ve had a bad volunteer experience, you’re probably thinking, “What?” She’s telling people who are looking for a job to volunteer (i.e., work for free). She’s insane. This may be true, but I’ve personally received more references, accolades, job leads, benefits, and access to influential people through volunteering than though any former employment opportunity. If you’re thoughtful and selective about volunteering, you’ll find that it’s a great way to increase your professional visibility.
Keeping the momentum going
Once I realized the benefits of volunteering, I haven’t stopped. It is a fantastic way to build experience, learn new skills, receive feedback, and build your network of contacts. This is, of course, if you are a hard-working volunteer. Volunteering is like all things in life. You get out what you put in.
Preparing for the future
I often use volunteering as a way to prepare for future employment. If I have an interest in something and there are no opportunities in my current work environment to experiment or stretch, then I will seek a volunteer opportunity that matches my interest. For example, social media has had a tremendous impact on the field of communication. It’s changed the way that people expect and demand to receive information. I communicate for a living, so to learn more about social media from the producer’s point of view versus the consumer’s point of view, I began volunteering for non-profit organizations as their social/digital media manager. During this time, I’ve acquired new skills and knowledge.
Learning and skill building is never-ending
I’ve learned some fascinating things through volunteering. For example, as the social media manager for a non-profit art organization, I learned that my target audience showed more engagement with images compared to text –no surprise. For example, the audience showed a decent amount of engagement when shown an image of a handsome older gentleman holding a plate of cookies at one of our events.
Fig 1. Man with a plate of cookies engaged about 150 followers
The audience showed more engagement when shown a beautiful older woman smiling and holding a glass of wine and a paint brush.
Fig 2. Woman with a glass of wine engaged about 200 followers
And, of course, an image of a cute child working with clay engaged even more followers.
Fig 3. Children playing with clay engaged about 250 followers
Now what’s interesting is that videos blow images out of the water in regard to engagement, and the shorter the video the better. For example, sharing a video of an attractive couple (instructors) dancing sent engagement through the roof.
Fig 4. Dancing couple engaged over 400 followers
What beats cookies, wine, children, and a dancing couple? That’s right. Pets trump people.
Fig 5. Pet-art contest engaged about 650 followers
I can go on and on about the benefits of the V-word, but until you give it a legitimate try, you’ll never know what you can learn and gain from the experience.