Volunteerism: 6 Thoughts to get You to Yes!

Volunteering can do a lot more than fill the time (and your résumé) while you search for a paying gig. Here are six considerations to make volunteerism work better for everyone. As I write this, I also hope that it inspires you to help now.

Get into it. If you decide to volunteer, work hard to make a difference. Non-profits that give you the chance to contribute have very limited resources, including time. They don’t need someone who is not committed. They need help.

Match your volunteerism to your skills. If you are an accountant, look for opportunities to use your accounting skills. Are you a marketing person? That non-profit could probably use you to improve its social media program. The idea is this: you can make a large impact by doing what you do best. Someone needs to work the serving line at the soup kitchen – and that role is very important – but many can do that job, while few can audit the 2013 financials. What is the opportunity cost of a certified project manager cleaning pots in the kitchen while she could be managing an important initiative?

TIP: Check www.Catchafire.org for skills-based pro bono opportunities (I have done two projects through them, and they are great!). www.Volunteermatch.org is another resource for skills-based volunteer opportunities. Are you a member of a faith community? Check there, too. LinkedIn offers a new volunteerism page. Finally, some towns and cities have local volunteer opportunity directories. There is a lot you can do!

Getting out of the house will help you. One of the bigger problems of unemployment and under-employment is the isolation and feelings of inadequacy that come with it. Find a role that gets you out into a professional setting where you can interact with other people. The contact will help you and the organization, and it will give others the chance to learn more about you. Obviously, you will build your network, too.

Positive feedback fuels motivation. Think about it, who doesn’t like some recognition for a job well done? Here is a not-so-secret: non-profits can’t give you money, but they are very appreciative of all volunteers. They will tell you how much they value you, and that will make you feel great, and that will make you want to do more – and do it better – in every area of your life.

You will have fresh stories. Good stories are the secret to a great résumé and interviewing experience. When you can tell about an accomplishment in a compelling, convincing, high-energy way in an interview, the hiring manager will sense your genuineness and credibility. That can only help. Won’t it be better to have a fresh 2014 experience, rather than a stale story from a few years ago, when you sit and answer the questions?

Treat your volunteerism like a job. Your professionalism and skills use will make a difference in how you see yourself and how you sell yourself for a paying job. If you are using all of your professional skills to benefit the non-profit organization and its constituents, you will feel much better about selling the experience as valid and relevant when you market yourself for a paid position.

This could be #7, but I thought it too obvious to treat it that way. No matter how tough your situation , there are others in much tighter spots. They need your help. Go do it, and get ready to make your own list about the value of volunteerism.

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Will You Keep Working?

When are you going to retire? When can you retire? NPR is running a series called Working Late on its Morning Edition program, and today’s profile of 73-year old personal trainer John David offers valuable ideas based on this motivated man’s experience. If you haven’t listened to it, click on this story link and then come back.

The story series is profiling Americans who are working past traditional retirement age. Whether they are doing it because they have to, want to or just because they can, many are working into their 70’s and beyond. Even for those not close to retirement, three points stand out.

First, find work that you really enjoy. David was working in television production when, in his 50’s, he became a personal trainer. As he states in the story, it turned out to be his true calling, something that he will be doing as long as he can and as long as anyone is willing to be trained by him.

Second, he had to take a long, financially challenging route into this later-life career. He couldn’t get a paid position as a trainer in LA, so he started volunteering. That volunteer work gave him the material that he needed to build a résumé that enabled his search after his move to New York. Career changes can often mean one, two, or more steps back to enter that new vocation. He did it. Anyone can.

Finally, we all need a purpose. There is important work to be done that will allow you and me and all of us to do our best. John David found it as a personal trainer. I believe that I have found it in helping clients market themselves for meaningful careers. Have you found yours?

When the time comes to make the retirement decision, will you be able to? If not, will it be because you want to keep working, or because you must just to survive? Start planning and working towards a future that will give you two great choices, not an unpleasant one based on dire circumstances.

Read more about motivation and purpose here: Would You Sleep with the Elephants?Quit It!Do What You Can

For some ideas on volunteering to build your résumé: CatchafireUnplug.Live.Volunteer Matching

Follow “Work” to stay up to date with the latest in career development and management.

Bill Florin is a Certified Professional Résumé Writer and Certified Employment Interview Professional and is President of Resu-mazing Services Company in Monroe, Connecticut, USA.

Five Reasons to Make One Decision: Catchafire

Tanzania flagI wrote in September about Catchafire, an organization that matches social-good enterprises with professionals looking for meaningful volunteer opportunities. I stepped forward to apply for some work and promised to tell you about it. Our project had a delayed start, but here’s the report (finally!).

The GLK Student Fund raises money and grants scholarships to needy and worthy students in Tanzania. GLK took a chance on me as a pro bono professional. My project included some important copywriting work. Here is what I discovered in the process.

  1. GLK, like so many other small non-profits, is driven by committed people looking to make a difference. As I worked with Gayle at GLK, it became obvious to me that she was putting every ounce of energy into her work meeting the needs of these students. Witnessing that energy, commitment and sacrifice was and continues to be an inspiration (especially on those low energy days that we all sometimes experience)
  2. These organizations value and respect the opinions and contributions of pro bono professionals. If you are feeling under-appreciated at work, grab one of these volunteer gigs. You will be a huge help and will feel better about your work, value and place in the world.
  3. Catchafire lets you filter and search for just the right project. Select your skill, filter by organizational mission, and get to work helping in a way that can stir your soul. The GLK work was a perfect match for me on several levels. Look and you’ll find one that works for you, too.
  4. After completing the project, I have stayed in touch with Gayle and we have been sharing ideas that have gone beyond the project. This has turned into a meaningful professional friendship. Who doesn’t like that?
  5. Doing this work allowed me to be creative and got me engaged thinking about something outside of my day-to-day. Before this project, I never would have known that the per capita income in Tanzania is less than $600 or just how difficult getting a decent education there can be. I can even point to the country on a map. What will inspire and challenge you?

What are your plans to do something different and meaningful in 2013? You don’t know who needs you until you look. I welcome any questions that you have and hope that you will share your experiences. Do something that really matters to celebrate the New Year!

Be sure to follow this blog and share your stories. Thanks for visiting!

10 Year End Tweaks & Tips

Reindeer GuyWhat would the end of the year be without lists? Best books, worst movies, most dramatic failures, the most influential people; the list of lists goes on. In that spirit, but hopefully much more useful, are some quick tips and tweaks that you can complete in a few minutes each.

  1. How is your profile photo? If you aren’t happy with your headshot that you use for LinkedIn, Twitter and other sites, take a moment during the holidays to take a new one. You will probably be dressed nicely and with other people, and everyone has a camera, so do it. Don’t wear the reindeer sweater!
  2. Scroll through your LI contacts with this question in mind: “What good work do I remember about this person doing on which I can base a LinkedIn recommendation?” Start at Z in your contacts for a change, and work your way from the bottom. Write the recommendation. It will be a wonderful holiday gift that will be appreciated much more than the Scooby Doo Chia Pet from Walgreen’s.
  3. Review just your current job’s block in your LinkedIn profile. What have you done this year that isn’t included. Update this and your résumé with your 2012 accomplishments.
  4. Again, review your contacts. Whom have you not spoken with in a long time? Send a note or make a call. Check in. Keep your network alive. A “Happy Holidays!” wish is always a great reason call.
  5. Invest some of your downtime (New Year’s Day, perhaps) taking inventory of your volunteer work. You haven’t done any? Check Catchafire or VolunteerMatch for ideas, or look close to home. The Rotary, Lions, faith communities, and the Boys & Girls Clubs are great places to start.
  6. Start that blog you have been thinking about. WordPress and other sites couldn’t be easier to use. You have great ideas to share. What are you waiting for?
  7. Check your privacy settings in your social media accounts. Are they still appropriately set for your needs? While you’re at it, change your passwords to something more secure than 123456.
  8. Update your signature block in your email account. Be sure that it reflects your professional brand as it should and that all information is current.
  9. Actively participate in a different LinkedIn or Quora conversation once a day for a week. See what it does for your thinking, creativity and networking.
  10. Drop the cash for a box of personal business cards. 123Print and Vista Print are good, cheap sources to get your personal networking cards printed.

What are you working on? Do you have other ideas for quick-hit tweaks for the final days of the year? Please share them.

Do you want to know more about Catchafire? Read about my experience here.

Bill Florin, CPRW is the President of Resu-mazing Services Company in Monroe, CT.

Volunteer Matching: A Firsthand Report

Much has been said recently about the value of volunteering. Job seekers, including those in my seminars and classes, ask the questions, “Should I volunteer and can I include it in my résumé and LinkedIn profile?” Yes, you should. Yes, you can. The harder advice to give has been how and where to look for volunteer opportunities. Here is one option that I share not as an interested observer, but as a participant in the process. I hope that it helps and informs your thoughts on what you can and should do.

A few weeks ago, I was having a conversation with a long-time friend. We were catching up on each other’s career stories when he mentioned a website called Catchafire. Had I heard of it? No. Henry explained that it was like a Monster job board for matching professionals interested in volunteer opportunities with social-good organizations needing help. It sounded interesting and I investigated.

Catchafire allows volunteers (PBPs : pro bono professionals) to identify causes in which they are interested (e.g. childhood education, women’s rights, etc.) and their skills (e.g. accounting, web design, copywriting). The site then offers open assignments that it thinks are good matches. The PBP browses the assistance requests and, if interested, applies for the job. I decided to try it.

Here are a few observations from having gone through the process. First, if you are going to do this yourself, be prepared to spend some time to set up your Catchafire profile. The fastest and easiest way is to import your LinkedIn profile. Second, be prepared for a screening and selection process that is not unlike applying for a paying position. When a PBP applies for a job, the requesting organization and Catchafire’s team will ask questions and request work samples. This is more than just raising your hand and getting the gig.

Catchafire is able to pay its staff and keep the computers running by earning a fee from the organization requesting the services of the PBP. It’s easy to understand why they want good people who can and will fulfill their commitments. The non-profit gets professional services at a greatly reduced rate, far below market value. The volunteer gets the satisfaction of working on a project that best matches her or his skills while doing something that matters, and maybe has earned another résumé bullet. Plus, there is the intangible benefit of making new connections and getting your name and work more widely known.

I have been accepted for my first assignment. The writing work begins in October. I will be sure to share an update, including information about the organization for which I am working, as the effort gets going. Check it out for yourself and maybe you can Catchafire, too.

Check out these two blog posts for a little more about volunteering: Energized by Work and Ready or Not. Enjoy!

Unplug. Live.

Your life is more than your Facebook page. The same is true for your LinkedIn profile, your Twitter feed and any other social media that you use. Your life and mine are defined by our relationships with real people that we see, hear and touch. Family, friends, colleagues, customers, clients, and partners in volunteer and civic work all make up our lives. Social media is a side dish, not the main course.

The Atlantic ran a story in May 2012, posing the question, “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?” A response printed in the July/August issue stopped me mid-sentence and prompted this blog article. Here is an excerpt: “I spend a lot of time on Facebook but have essentially zero in-person friends… (I’m) lonely. I need to figure out how I’ve let my personal life become almost solely defined as an online activity.” How sad!

The social media play a role in our lives. Like anything else, the many sites we use and devices enabled to access them should be seen as tools, a means to an end, not an end themselves. We can have fun, maintain connections, joke, gossip and do so many things with the technology, but in the end it is an empty pursuit. Unless we jump from virtual friendship to real relationships – a shared meal, a round of golf, help painting a room or caring for a friend’s pet during a vacation – the constant tweets, updates, check-ins and the rest all just suck up time and leave us feeling like Lonely Reader. We ask ourselves, “Where did the time go and why is my life empty of meaning and real relationships?”

The self-centered ME, ME, ME of Facebook can lead to a world in which we are constantly broadcasting, sending updates about our lives, to nobody in particular and sometimes nobody at all. If your latest post isn’t funny, inflammatory or interesting enough, if it doesn’t include a picture or link that gets others talking (or at least clicking), it is the existential tree crashing to the ground without a sound. So what could Lonely Reader do to get a life and maybe a few real friends, someone to share lunch with or a walk through the park?

It’s simple, really. Pick up the phone and call some of those friends. Make a date to meet and do something fun. Get involved in civic, volunteer or religious organizations. As someone involved in leadership roles in both a service organization (Rotary) and my faith community, I assure you that you will be welcome. What are you good at? Volunteer. VolunteerMatch.org is a site that will give you options in your area. Do something to help someone else, moving your focus from yourself onto another.

When we come together and work together towards a common goal or interest, real relationships take root and flourish. And that will be something to tweet about.

Bill Florin, CPRW is President of Resu-mazing Services Company. Contact Bill for help with your job search, career management and personal brand questions.