Alumna Lynn Berger '84TC, '90TC, of the Columbia Career Coaches Network, weighs in on the benefits of volunteering during your job search or career transitions.
As a New York City-based career counselor and career coach who has worked with many individuals over my career, I have witnessed great things from volunteering, on both sides of coin.
Try a "Try Out"
Even if you think you know what you want to do, you don't need to jump into any endeavor with both feet and no parachute.
I always recommend to my clients that they have a try-out experience, whether paid or unpaid, as a way to test the waters. Before you go to graduate school for social work, for instance, try volunteering to see if that sort of career is for you. Or if you think you want to teach high school, try substitute teaching for a few days. If you like art, volunteer in a museum. You can save yourself a lot of hardship and can learn from the volunteer experience what you like and did not like about the work you were doing.
Avoid Job Search Burnout
Furthermore, the best way to avoid job search burnout is to feel useful and productive by volunteering and/or working on a cause you believe in. You can be helpful to others and gain perspective about your current situation. There are sites that match volunteers with specific needs. They include: Idealist, Indeed and, in New York specifically, volunteer-referral.com.
Moving from a volunteer position to paid work is a wonderful transitional opportunity. You eliminate many pieces of uncertainty because you already know the people and routine of the organization. It is clearly an "in" to paid work.
Fundraiser and Volunteer Coordinator
A woman moved to a new area and the commute became too much for her, and she had to give up her former position. She was fortunate to not have to work for a bit; however, she felt she needed to do something. She found volunteer work to tide her over and give her time to figure out what she wanted to do. Her volunteer experiences were all very pleasurable, so she told her supervisor that if anything came up, she would be interested in working at the organization. She eventually was offered a job and became a project assistant in volunteer services at a major nonprofit organization, where she worked with families in need. She feels she "stumbled" into a great position. She's making a difference in people's lives by fundraising and matching volunteers to people in need. At the end of the day, she goes home feeling good. She also has the added bonus of sharing her interests and value systems with colleagues.
Candidate for Political Office
Another woman began her involvement in local politics as a volunteer when she was home raising four children. She called her local leader and expressed an interest and was encouraged to come to a meeting. Based on her enthusiasm, she was asked to become more involved. She joined committees and built up a community presence in local politics. Over the years, she had various roles—she worked primaries, was appointed to a couple of positions, and set up programs for the public on pressing issues. Because she has been so successful in her past ventures, she was asked to run for Town Council. She will combine her earlier political involvement with this new challenge. She is a true role model for those who want to pursue their passions.
Lynn Berger '84, '90TC is a career counselor and coach, specializing in helping people make the most of their lives and feel fulfilled. Berger received her Master of Arts in Organizational Psychology and her Master of Education in Counseling Psychology from Columbia. She is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, National Certified Counselor, Master Career Counselor, and Professional Certified Coach. Berger has appeared as a guest expert on radio and TV shows nationwide, and has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The New York Times, Newsday, The Huffington Post, Businessweek.com, and Monster.com. She authored The Savvy Part-Time Professional - How To Land, Create Or Negotiate The Part-Time Job Of Your Dreams.