How to Turn a Volunteer Position into a Job

Volunteers working in a cafe
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Volunteering is a great way to give back to your community, make new friends and pursue a cause you are passionate about. However, volunteering can also be a way to enhance your job search. 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 an organization inside and out. These opportunities could set you up perfectly for a job offer.

Here are some tips on how to work your way from volunteer to employee.

Be Honest and Humble

There is no reason to hide your interest in a salaried position. If you love the organization where you're volunteering and would like to work there someday, let your manager know.

If they know about your passion and interest early on, the manager can keep you in mind when there are openings within the company. Similarly, if you see a job opening at the company, be sure to tell your boss or other connections at the organization that you're interested in.​

Be honest about your skills and experience also. Try to volunteer within your abilities so that you don't cause more harm than good by trying to learn skills that are too advanced.

While you should alert your manager to your interest in a job, try not to grumble about your volunteer position. If you complain about the lack of pay or the tasks you are asked to perform, you will come across as ungrateful or egotistical.

As a volunteer, you are there to help out, learn about the company and give back to your community. 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, Passionate and Professional

Patience is a virtue in every endeavor. It might take a long time to land a position at the nonprofit where you volunteer. Nonprofits have limited budgets, and it often takes a while for a job to open up. Be patient and stay focused on making connections and working hard.

Since you may have to wait months or years for a job to open up, make sure you pick an organization with a mission you're passionate about. The organization’s management will likely notice your passion and support for their mission, creating interest in offering you a job.

Flexibility is important when volunteering. Be ready to take on a challenge if a staff member cannot be present for an event.

Treat your volunteer position like a job. Take your position seriously, show up on time, and consistently produce high-quality work. Putting effort and passion into every task is the only way you will get noticed.

Take on Responsibility, Build Relationships

Look for ways to increase your value in the organization. When someone needs help with a task, offer your assistance—especially if it is in a field or department you would like to work in.

Look for opportunities to fill leadership roles—spearhead new projects, offer to lead smaller volunteer teams and get involved in projects that let you work more closely with the organization’s managers. If you make yourself indispensable to the company, you increase your likelihood of being considered for a job.

Get to know as many people at the company as possible. You will have plenty of opportunities to get to know your fellow volunteers, but you can expand your network even more widely by reaching out to employees.

If you're interested in a job in a particular field, ask the manager in that department if you can take them out to coffee to learn more.

Learn the Culture and Connect

 For hiring managers, the benefit of hiring a volunteer is that there is no learning curve—volunteers know how the company works. As you volunteer, learn as much about the company as possible—the culture, strengths and vulnerabilities. This will give you a leg up should you be granted an interview and be asked your thoughts for improvements or about the work.

While it's important to connect with the employees and volunteers, it might be even more important to connect with the people the organization is helping. They will remember and ask about you—showing that you've made a positive impact.

When you finish your volunteer work, stay connected with the people 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 remember you and may consider you for a job after you leave.

Use Volunteering to Help Your Career

There are many ways that volunteer work can enhance your career. You can find a volunteer position that will help you develop new skills. Interested in becoming a strong public speaker? Become a community outreach volunteer for an organization you support. Use the position to create presentations and speak to people about the organization. This is a great way to develop a new skill to put on your resume.

Find a volunteer position that will help you polish the skills you already have. If you want to improve your ability to speak a second language, volunteer for a job that requires you to talk 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. If you're curious about public relations, volunteer to help with publicity for an organization. This is a great way to experience a field you're interested in without a long-term commitment.

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.

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

Find a Non-Profit

When deciding where you want to volunteer, first think of what organizations or general causes you are passionate about. Then, think of what skills you would like to develop or improve. Consider the knowledge you'd like to gain or new careers you want to explore.

Picking an organization that aligns with your goals and interests ensures that you enjoy your volunteer work and do your best. If there is a nonprofit that matches these criteria, consider volunteering there first. Make a list of non-profits with similarities, and prioritize them. Work your way down the list until you find one that you enjoy.