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Explore a Career

by Susan J. Ellis

Use Volunteering to Try Something New

Are you looking to start a career or to change jobs? Volunteering is a marvelous way to explore possible career options. It is relatively risk-free in that you can sample a work field or setting without making a long-term commitment to it. This allows you to discover whether or not you like the work or are good at it -- and if you discover it's not for you, you can move on without disrupting your resume or your cash flow.

On the other hand, if you find the work exciting, you can increase your volunteer commitment so that you learn even more about this new job field and your talent for it. Eventually, volunteering can lead you to a paying job--by providing contacts, references, and something tangible to show on your resume.

For new graduates, volunteering can place you a notch above your fellow students who may only be able to show prospective employers that they studied in the classroom and held minimum-wage summer jobs. Your volunteer work will demonstrate that you have practical skills, can function in a work environment, and care about your community.

For those who are tired of their present job, volunteering is a welcome change of pace. It allows you to test yourself in new situations and to see what truly interests you. It gives you the luxury to fail -- the chance to risk doing something you've never done before and to learn from it even if it doesn't work out. Community service shows prospective employers that you not only want to make a change in your job, but that you have already made a change and now want to expand your "extracurricular" activities into a full-time career.

If you have been out of the work force while raising a family, or took a leave due to illness or bereavement, volunteering is a way back into the work place. It gives you the opportunity to develop self-confidence and prove that your skills are still alive (or lets you get back up to speed on new-fangled developments such as computers and faxes).

For the active retiree, volunteering is a second (or third or fourth) career -- the chance finally to do what you thought was closed off to you because of job choices you made long ago. Experiment with volunteering and keep your talents youthful.

Volunteering is only career exploration if you consciously select assignments that:

  • place you in the type of setting you want to learn about;
  • let you work side by side with professionals you can observe and who can answer questions you may have about their career;
  • ask for as much training as you can get;
  • ask to be "promoted" to tasks of greater challenge so that you can truly use the volunteer experience to document your accomplishments to a prospective employer.
  • You will learn the most by involving yourself in causes and agencies you want to help succeed. So while you gain career exploration, the agency gains a great volunteer -- a win-win situation.   
copyright Energize, Inc.
used with permission                 

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