If you’re considering a career change, your career counselor or coach may encourage you to take a volunteer position in your new industry. Alternatively, you may be encouraged to take up volunteer work when you’re between jobs, as a way to update your resume.
(1) Non-profit organizations often have a history of transitioning volunteers to full-time careers. For-profit organizations rarely do.
If you seek a job in a for-profit organization, be cautious about offering to work for free or for a deeply discounted salary. Instead, try to leverage your skills to a new position. For instance, an IT professional who wants to move to marketing could apply for tech jobs in marketing firms.
(2) Recognize that volunteer positions often differ dramatically from the paid positions.
This difference works in both directions. Once I met someone who volunteered for a social service job. She was horrified: heavy workload, depressing conditions, and ineffective supervision.
“Social work? No way!” she declared.
I suggested she talk to professionals with degrees who worked in the field. I also suggested she investigate different agencies.
At the other extreme, volunteer workers often miss the political hassles and informal job requirements that are critical to surviving in a paid position.
(3) Volunteer work may be a bridge when you are in transition.
Career change articles often urge workers to build up their resumes with volunteer work. Sometimes you can pick up skills that will be transferrable but don’t assume you’re building your resume. The gap between for-profit and non-profit can be enormous and career direction typically goes one way: from for-profit to non-profit.
If you are not working at all, I first recommend investigating some form of self-employment or freelance work, preferably in your field. I’d also be open to short-term jobs that bring in cash.
Volunteer work may give you some structure and introduce you to new people. It’s better than sitting on the couch at home. It’s usually better than working in a low-paying retail job (unless, of course, you seek a retail management career).