Not so long ago, a significant gap in employment experience was a major red flag for recruiters. If you’d been out of work for more than a month or two, you were in real danger of being overlooked for many opportunities. Like many employment problems, this one has been virtually wiped out by this deep recession. With national employment at 9.6% and local employment here in Northeast Florida hovering around 11%, the stigma of being out of work is rapidly disappearing. In fact, the number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks and over) made up 44.9% of unemployed persons. (Source: USDOL, July 2010.)
So having a significant gap in your employment history puts you in good company, and doesn’t reflect poorly on your skills or work ethic. Does that mean you should just wait and hope that things get better? There is one sure way to keep busy, expand your network and close up that employment gap.
One of the best ways to be productive and keep your skills sharp during a layoff is to volunteer. Volunteering may be the last thing on your mind when you need a paycheck, but it may become an important part of your job search. You can easily find something to do that will make your community a better place, and nonprofits will welcome you with open arms (tough times mean that they have increased need and decreased funding.) If you look carefully, you may even find an opportunity that offers the chance to use – or improve – your skills. If you’re an accountant, offer to help with financial records or grants. If you’re in IT, offer to assist with the network. Marketing? Organize a special event. Teacher? Set up a reading program for children or tutor people learning to read.
Here are some of the advantages of a volunteer job that uses your professional skills.
- You stay busy and feel productive, which can be critical to maintaining a positive attitude during a very difficult time. You have the added benefit of doing good work to help people who may be having a harder time than you. Seeing what others re going through can really put your own troubles in perspective.
- You close the employment gap with real world work experience. You can also get a reference or recommendation from the nonprofit’s management.
- You’ll be working side by side with people who make a difference in the community – staff and other volunteers. Many of the donors and leaders of charitable organizations are also community leaders. They will get a chance to know your work and may be able to connect you with opportunities later on.
- Volunteers sometimes get to take on tasks that they may not be able to do in a paid job. This may be your chance to stretch your skills. Have you always wanted to write, learn a trade or take up public speaking? If there’s a career direction you’ve wanted to explore, you may get a chance to try it out as a volunteer. Build your skills and look for new opportunities when you have the confidence to compete for paid positions.