Need a Job? Try Working for Free

Are you looking for a job and coming up short on experience or skills? You are not alone. Thousands of job seekers face the same problem. Even after years of steady employment, applicants are being turned down for lack of technical knowledge and up-to-date experience. If this happens to you, update your skills and add to your experience by volunteering your time in exchange for on-the-job training.

We think of volunteers as hospital candy stripers or retired people giving something back to the community. But volunteers are also people like you getting experience, learning new skills, making contacts, adding to your résumé and collecting references. Going to work on a regular basis, even if you don’t get paid, keeps you organized and motivated. It also helps improve your skills and gives you a feeling of accomplishment. This leads to an improvement in your attitude in general. When you think more highly about yourself, you are more attractive to a potential employer.

One reason to volunteer is to get experience. In my last job we used twenty to thirty volunteers each year. Most were college seniors or recent graduates and they knew the importance of including real-world experience on their résumés. You don’t have to be a student to get good unpaid positions. If you need experience because of a career change or because your last position didn’t allow you to grow, volunteering will work for you, too. Volunteer work enhances your résumé, provides references, and lets you try a job before accepting a permanent position. You also learn what is involved in doing the work. This helps when you are interviewed. Being able to describe what you have done lets the interviewer see you in that position.

If you are returning to the job market after a several years away for some reason, it is a good idea to learn the latest computer technology before applying. Volunteer to do data entry work, spreadsheet entry, or word processing in return for training. There are not enough volunteers for this type of work. This way you learn to use the latest computer software and get experience while the employer gets the data entered at no cost.

Volunteers have more opportunities to meet people in their career field than the average job seeker. Volunteer your time to increase the size of your network. Another benefit is that as a volunteer, you find out about openings where you are volunteering before the general public. Being known as a good worker may get you the job before it is even advertised.

Employers are requiring and checking references more than ever because there are more applicants for each opening. Volunteering helps build good references. For the best references, treat your volunteer work like a regular job. Get to work on time, work the hours you said you would and make meaningful contributions to the organization.

If volunteering sounds useful, follow these suggestions to find a position. First, check if your city has a volunteer center. If so, talk to them and see what’s available. Select a position in your career field unless you only want to learn a new skill. If there is not a volunteer center in your town or you don’t find a position that interests you, the next step is to check the bulletin boards at the career center at your local college. The postings may be for students, but apply anyway. Some employees use the bulletin boards simply because there is no easy way to reach the general public.

Don’t expect to walk in and start working just because it’s a non-paying job. Employers may have to invest some training time in you and they want to know what you have to offer, how much time you can give each week, and how long you will be around. It helps to have a résumé to let the employer know the skills you offer, but it is not a necessity. Employers know you will resign if you get a paying job. They know you may need to take off occasionally for an interview. However, in the meantime, they expect volunteers to work like paid employees.

Use the experience you get as a volunteer to help land a job. Learn new skills and add them to your résumé. Keep a list of names, addresses and phone numbers of the people you met on the job. And, finally, get paid with references. Working for free pays more than you might think.

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5 Responses to “Need a Job? Try Working for Free”


  1. 1 MainWriters June 26, 2012 at 2:08 pm

    Sid, helping people find jobs is a wonderful thing to do in this economy.

  2. 3 Carol Brown June 27, 2012 at 2:33 pm

    Thank you for encouraging people to volunteer. When my husband was pastoring I was teaching in our local junior college. One young man came to Sunday evening service regularly–and complained weekly about his sad state of affairs. He had a two year degree in accounting but could not get a job because he had no experience. Of course he could not GET the experience he needed. Week after week I heard how unhappy he was. I finally told him to volunteer with Hospice–he had an entry level job in a nursing home. He could see the logic, just as you have laid it out. He volunteered for six months and then landed a “real” job! His outlook and demeanor did a 180 when he started volunteering. It was a delight to watch the transformation.

  3. 4 Carol Brown June 27, 2012 at 2:42 pm

    I should also say that Hospice was at first cautious, but when he left, there were teary eyes. Their books were in the best shape they had ever been! He received glowing references and a broadened network–just as you say!

  4. 5 Sidney W. Frost June 27, 2012 at 4:55 pm

    Thanks, Carol. Real experience like you described is great to hear.


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Sidney W. Frost, B.A., M.S.

The author's job-search advice has appeared in more than forty newspapers and other publications around the country. He has worked as a corporate recruiter in information technology and, as an IT supervisor has reviewed many applications and held many interviews over the years in both the private and public sector. His knowledge of the emotional impact of a job loss comes from his own experience as well as training received to help people who have lost jobs and faced other losses.

Mr. Frost is also the author of the Job Seekers' Attitude Adjustment Guide which is available in paperback and Kindle editions as well as two inspirational novels. See http://sidneywfrost.com/ for information. His other blog, The Christian Bookmobile/ talks about reading and writing.

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