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Job hunters keep their skills sharp through service

January 26, 2010
Cheryl Howard

Cheryl Howard

This is the first post by Cheryl Howard, a skilled volunteer who is working with TVC to refine our communications efforts. Stay tuned for contributions from other volunteers about their experiences in the near future.


Since I was laid off in 2009, I have talked to hundreds of folks who share my dilemma: how do we keep our skills sharp when we’re not working 40 – 50 hours a week?  I believe the answer lies in using our skills to help non-profit organizations.

I bet a lot of folks picture volunteerism as painting a house for an elderly homeowner or cheering at a Special Olympics event. Now think ‘behind the scenes.’  Non-profit groups are no different than other businesses, and corporate skills are highly valued.

If you’re a job hunter interested in offering pro bono support, keep these points in mind:

  • Service is a plus on resumes. Being out of work for a long time no longer raises red flags. However, recruiters ask what you did in that time.  They like to hear that that you pursued professional development and training, worked freelance, or provided your services to charities.  They don’t care that you attended your daughter’s soccer games or refinished the living room floor.
  • Resources can be limited. You might have come from a business sector that provided a lot of resources. Non-profits rarely have that edge, so don’t assume anything. Just ask what they can and can’t provide.
  • Avoid long-term projects unless you are confident you will have the time after you land a job. If you’re not sure, then think short-term.
  • Non-profits need more than muscle. Apply your brains and experience to assist with inventory control, purchasing negotiations, process management, record-keeping and auditing, project management, human resources, information management… the list goes on and on.
  • Pick up some new skills. Shy about social networking? Have someone show you the ropes. Rusty in event planning?  Ask for an opportunity to polish those abilities.

Volunteering IS its own reward. However, you never know when the folks you help could be the contacts you need for a job. Either way, everyone wins.

If you’re interested in working as a skilled volunteer in Chicago’s northwest suburbs, check out our skilled volunteer program by visiting our website. You can also get involved with organizations like Taproot or Women On Call.

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