While you are looking for your next opportunity, do not discount the value of volunteering.
It seems counterintuitive to work for free when you need to find something that pays, but volunteering has a couple of primary benefits, and several secondary benefits for job seekers.
Primary benefits – the real reasons you should volunteer:
1. Help someone in need. No matter how bad your current situation is, someone has it worse and needs your help. Counting your blessings and giving back to those less fortunate is the right thing to do.
2. Give you something to do. If you are giving your job search less than a full-time effort, you can expect a less than full-time result. But trying to job search 24/7 will drive you crazy. Give yourself permission every once in a while to occupy your mind and energy on something else.
Secondary benefits – the hidden benefits for job seekers:
3. Close gaps in your work history. The fear that employers have about hiring those who have been out of work is that you have forgotten how to work. Volunteering takes that argument away. If you take pro bono assignments in your field, then you can include them on your resume as a self-employed consultant. But even if you volunteer in areas totally outside of your career, you can tell an employer, “While I was looking for my next opportunity, I kept myself busy by…”
4. Learn new skills. If you have been with one employer for a long time, or if you have been out of work for a while, or if you want to change careers, then you may need to come current with your skills. You may need to take a survivor job while you do some pro bono consulting in your chosen field, but after a few months, you have newly marketable skills you can include on a resume and talk to in an interview.
5. Get a referral. Non-profits solicit for donations. For-profits solicit for new customers. In either case, someone in the office is very connected and may know who is hiring for what you want to do. At the very least, assuming you do a good job, you can ask for a letter of recommendation. After all, if they are not paying you, this is the least they can do.
Success doesn’t come to you. You go get it.