Volunteer workMany active job seekers overlook volunteering as an avenue for discovering new job opportunities. With bills and other expenses piling up at home, finding steady work with a paycheck is usually their first priority.

But volunteering is rarely a 40 hour a week commitment, and typically there’s time for both regular job hunting and additional pro-bono efforts on the side. The benefits of volunteer work go far beyond “doing a good deed,” and often your commitment will lead to increased job opportunities, or at the very least some additional experience to put on your resume. Here are a few ways volunteer work can jump-start your career:

Expand your network: Job seekers have a “daily grind,” just like everyone else. Their work is often tied to the computer – sourcing new job leads, pouring over social media channels, sending out resumes, emails, etc. While these repetitive activities are essential to the search process, they often leave the job seeker isolated. Volunteering at various non-profits can break up your week and enhance your professional network at the same time, getting you out in front of new people (people of influence such as board of directors, committees, and associations) who will be able to vouch for you as a reference or pass along your name to someone that’s hiring. It’s not uncommon for a non-profit to end up recruiting a volunteer into paid position if they did a good job.

Fills in time gaps on your resume: Volunteering also can help cover unsightly periods of unemployment on your resume. If you were recently laid off or you’ve been looking for work, volunteering or consulting is a professional outlet for your career path in transition. Most recruiters don’t even mind or care that you were lending your abilities free-of-charge: Hiring managers and recruiters just like to see that you’re working and staying productive. You don’t have to let the stigma of unemployment keep you down if you refuse to accept the negative label.

Keeps your expertise fresh: One of the best ways to stay relevant and on top of your game is through volunteer work. The experience you gain will improve the skills you already have and give you the chance to learn new abilities – increasing your value as a prospective job candidate. You’ll perform better on job interviews and you’ll be able to point to your volunteer work as an achievement and a valuable exercise for your abilities.

Volunteer work gets you up from the computer, improves your professional network, keeps you on your feet, and adds a lively and personal touch to your job search. Take a few hours out of your standard search week and challenge yourself with a new experience. The work will pay for itself in new opportunities, experience, and relationships. Good luck out there!

in Career Change]