Learn How to Turn a Volunteer Position into a Job

volunteers working in a cafe
••• SolStock / Getty Images

Volunteering is a great way to give back to your community, make new friends, and pursue a cause about which you are passionate. However, volunteering can also be a way to enhance your job search. In fact, with a little patience, passion, and hard work, you may even be able to turn a volunteer position into salaried employment.

Volunteering offers you the chance to network with people in your industry, demonstrate your skills, and learn the ins and outs of an organization.

These opportunities could set you up perfectly for a job offer. Whether you are volunteering full time or part time, for a short-term project or a long-term commitment, here are tips on how to work your way from volunteer to employee.

How Volunteering Can Help Your Career

There are a number of ways that volunteer work can enhance your career. Firstly, you can find a volunteer position that will help you develop new skills. Interested in becoming a strong public speaker? Volunteer as a community outreach volunteer for an organization you support, doing presentations and speaking to people about the organization. This is a great way to develop a new skill to put on your resume.

Secondly, you can find a volunteer position that will help you polish skills you already have. If want to improve your ability to speak a foreign language, for example, volunteer for a job that requires you to speak with people in that language.

This real-world experience will quickly improve your language skills.

Volunteering is also a low-stakes way to explore a new career path. Interested in public relations? Volunteer to help publicize an organization about which you are passionate. This is a great way to experience a field in which you are interested, without the long-term commitment.

If you are currently unemployed, volunteering is also a great way to fill a gap in your resume. You can continue to gain valuable work experience while still job searching.

Volunteering is a great place for professional networking. You will meet people with similar professional interests, who may be able to help you with your career. Volunteering is also a great way to get your foot in the door at an organization for which you would like to work.

Some volunteer positions can turn into full-time jobs, so do your best work and get to know as many people in the organization as possible. Finally, volunteering is simply a great way to give back to your community. Volunteer for an organization whose cause you support, and you can’t go wrong.

Where to Volunteer

When deciding where you want to volunteer, first think of what organizations or general causes you are passionate about. Picking an organization that you are interested in will ensure that you enjoy your volunteer work and that you will do your best work. If there is a nonprofit for which you would like to work, consider volunteering there first.

Then, think of what skills you would like to develop or improve, the particular knowledge you want to gain, or new careers you want to explore.

This will help you decide what type of volunteer work you are interested in. Reach out to your organization of interest, expressing your desire to volunteer, and the type of work you are interested in doing for them. Even if the organization does not openly advertise volunteer positions, they will likely still welcome a passionate volunteer.

How to Turn a Volunteer Position into a Job

  • Be Up Front. There is no reason to hide your interest in a salaried position. If you love the organization for which you are volunteering, and would like to work there someday, let your volunteer manager know right away. If he or she knows of your passion and interest this early on, hopefully, the manager will keep this in mind when there are openings within the company. Similarly, if you see a job opening at the company, and you decide to apply for the position, be sure to tell your boss or other connections at the organization.​
  • Be Humble. While you should alert your manager to your interest in a job, do not grumble about your volunteer position. If you complain about the lack of pay or about the tasks you are asked to perform, you will come across as ungrateful or even egotistical. As a volunteer, you are there to learn about the company, and to learn from others. People will notice your passion and commitment but will be turned off if you act like you are superior to your volunteer position.
  • Be Patient. Chances are that, even if you are ultimately offered a job, it will take a long time. Nonprofits have limited budgets, and it often takes a while for a position to open up. Stay focused on making connections and working hard at your volunteer position, and be patient.
  • Be Passionate. Since you may have to wait months or, more likely, years, for a job to open up, make sure you pick an organization and volunteer position about which you are passionate. The organization’s higher-ups will likely notice your passion and support for their company’s mission, and it may make them more likely to offer you a job.
  • Be Professional. Treat your volunteer position like a job. Take your job seriously – show up on time, and be consistent with the high quality of your work. Putting effort and passion into every task is the only way you will get noticed by the organization’s employers.
  • Take on Responsibility. Look for ways to increase your value in the organization. When someone needs help with a task, offer your assistance, especially if the task is in a field or department in which you would like to work. Look for opportunities to fill leadership roles – spearhead new projects, offer to lead smaller volunteer teams, and get involved in projects that will let you work more closely with the organization’s managers. If you make yourself indispensable to the company, you will increase your likelihood of being considered for a job.
  • Build Relationships. Get to know as many people at the company as possible. While you will obviously have plenty of opportunities to get to know those with whom you are volunteering, you can expand your network even more widely. If you are not volunteering in a particular department, but are interested in a job in that field, ask the manager if you can take him or her out to coffee to learn more about the department.
  • Learn the Culture. For hiring managers, the benefit of hiring a volunteer is that there is no learning curve: volunteers already know the ins and outs of a company.  As you volunteer, get to learn as much about the company as possible – the culture, the strengths and vulnerabilities of the company, etc.. This will give you a definite leg up, should you have an interview for a job.
  • Stay Connected. Even when you finish your volunteer work, stay connected with your contacts at the organization. Send holiday cards or occasional emails asking how the company is doing. Feel free to (briefly) mention your job search, or ask to meet with a contact for an informational interview. By remaining connected, the employers will remember you, and may even consider you for a job after you have left.