With unemployment at record levels and projections of continued slowdown for many regions and industries, job seekers are looking for innovative ways to remain optimistic while maintaining a continual focus on being prepared. Now, more than ever, it is important to be positive and actively seek ways to remain prepared for the next opportunity.
A recent article at CNN.com highlighted two major ways that job seekers are keeping their skills sharp while making positive impacts on their communities1: volunteering and national service.
Major national service organizations such as Teach for America and AmeriCorps have received record numbers of applications, a trend that many experts attribute, in part, to a growing interest in public service as well as economic conditions that have led many professionals to re-evaluate their career paths. Even when not seeking a long-term career change, tough economic times have been an "odd but effective" motivator to those seeking to volunteer and make a difference in their community.
Service opportunities like AmeriCorps are especially attractive for new graduates because they provide health benefits and student loan repayment options.
Beyond the realm of national service organizations, volunteerism is on the rise. For example, as might be expected, nearly every United Way chapter in the United States is reporting an increased need for services such as basic food and housing. The need is further compounded by a decline in funding from donations and grants. Fortunately, many job seekers are stepping in to volunteer their time and help these types of nonprofits meet those needs.
When a job seeker is in a financial position to spend some time volunteering, it can be a great opportunity to expand professional networks and even improve job search positioning. In fact, many job seekers do not realize that volunteer activity can be included in the "experience" section of a resume if the role meets certain criteria.
Volunteering a specific skill set may also build relationships that could pay off in the long run: For example, if a graphic designer volunteers their time, nonprofits might remember the designer and, when times are better, this could lead to a job or a referral!
Perhaps just as important, volunteering can help job seekers overcome the feeling of isolation. Being in a professional environment, collaborating with peers, and keeping skills sharp are benefits that contribute to overall self esteem and a sense of accomplishment. This, in turn, can energize the whole job search and the improvement in motivation and achievement will often be carried into an interview.
Ultimately, volunteering is a low-risk and (potentially) high-return investment of time that can breathe new life into your job search!