Over the years I have deepened my understanding of the human experience and improved my skills as a therapist by listening closely to clients. Recently, while conducting a workshop on coping with the emotional turmoil of unemployment, a participant offered a great suggestion to the group. When her children were young, she sometimes felt housebound. She started volunteering to get out of the house and connect with people, as well as make a social contribution.
Once she returned to work she was too busy to continue volunteering. Unfortunately, because of the downturn in the economy she found herself unemployed and spending hours everyday looking for another position. After a few months, she started to feel socially isolated. Remembering the sense of community she got from volunteering years earlier, she decided to try her hand at it once again.
It worked. She looked forward to working with other people and helping the less fortunate. Her motivation improved as well as her sense of self worth. As a result, she encouraged other members of the group to volunteer. When we met as a group a week later, she had inspired four other people to take on volunteer positions. One person reported that she was learning new computer skills. Someone in another workshop was hoping the skills she was gaining volunteering at an animal shelter would lead to a job at a privately owned dog kennel.
Our society is richer and more humane because of millions of volunteers across the country. For those seeking jobs, it not only enriches their lives but also adds to their resume. It shows perspective employers that you have a cooperative, sociable nature and are willing to give generously of yourself to support a greater cause. It helps answer the question “What have you been doing while unemployed?” Interestingly, a recent blog post on Ivyexec.com reported that 20% of hiring managers relied on volunteering as part of their hiring decisions.
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If you are unemployed, my heart goes out to you. Listen-up. Here is some tough love and savvy advice from someone who has selected and interviewed hundreds of people. Let me put this as plainly as possible. Move away from your computer and towards your local coffee shop, little league park or ordinary social event. Go anywhere people gather. Meet new people, tell everyone you know that you need a job or a project. The “friend of a friend” is very likely going to be your next boss.
In the meantime, go to your favorite charity and volunteer to do a specific and meaningful project. Work while you are looking for work: Serve coffee, mow lawns, run errands. There is nothing more honorable that earning a living, no matter how humble the job.
Another tip…please stop the madness. Stop pressing the “apply” button expecting to get a reply or phone call. Do the math. At Coca-Cola, I received hundreds of resumes a day. They were dumped into a data base of millions. I know the same to be true of most, if not all, major corporations. You are more likely to win the lottery than get an interview by merely pressing the apply button. Stats indicate that only somewhere between 5-15 % of people get jobs that way. Use the job boards to find out what jobs are open. Then ask everyone you know if they know someone at the companies where you see posted openings. Get an introduction. Ask your “friend’s friend” if he or she will do you a favor and meet you for coffee. After you meet, ask him or her to hand deliver or email your resume to the hiring manager with a personal note attached. Then pay the favor forward.
Lisa Jacobson, career advisor and HR consultant, is the founder of Workplace Solutions, http://www.workplacesolutionstampa.com.
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As a psychologist, I present workshops focused on psychological strategies to help unemployed participants stay positive, motivated, and focused while searching for another job. Recently, a participant pointed out that she had used volunteering to get her out of the house and enrich her life during her child rearing years. After returning to work, she became too busy to volunteer. Like many others today, she found herself out of work and spending countless hours seeking new employment. Eventually, she found it more and more difficult to stay motivated. She found she was becoming less energetic and was just going through the motions of looking for work.
It struck her that returning to volunteering would get her out of the house and help her feel more positive about her life. She shared her experience with the group and even talked another member into joining her work at a food bank. To my surprise, more and more participants started to volunteer in a variety of settings. All reported feeling an improved sense of self-worth and more motivated to engage in job search activities. One participant pointed out that she was being taught new software skills while volunteering. (Something that would have benefited her in her previous job.)
In good times, volunteering is seen as an altruistic endeavor. For an unemployed person volunteering remains a way to help others, but it can also help them help themselves. It also looks good on your resume. It shows perspective employers that you have a cooperative, sociable nature, and are willing to give generously of yourself to support a greater cause.
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