How To Go From Volunteer to Paid Employee
Being a volunteer is a fabulous thing. It allows cash-strapped organisations to extend their reach and do more good work. And it gives volunteers a chance to make a difference in their communities and gain valuable experience and brownie points for their CV’s while they’re at it. But volunteering with the express aim of getting into paid employment is a slightly different story. There are two scenarios to consider:
- You start volunteering at an organisation to gain experience and skills and use that on your CV to apply for paid jobs in the same area at other NGO’s/progressive companies.
- You volunteer at an organisation you love with the express reason of making yourself irreplaceable in the hopes they hire you.
I have seen tears and much frustration from people trying to do the latter. Sometimes it works, often it doesn’t. There is not a lot of staff turnaround some organisations, especially the great ones we all want to work at.
There are definitely benefits of volunteering in an organisation you want to work for. You get to witness first-hand the daily grind of work, meet the characters behind the job titles and see if it really is a place you want to spend 40 hours or more at a week. It’s all too easy to romanticise work that is done behind closed doors, and volunteering allows you to get up close and personal. If the organisation is hiring, as a volunteer you’ll know before they advertise and can get the insider on what the team is looking for.
I volunteered or offered my services pro bono a lot when I was travelling. I wanted to be immersed in a city, living and working rather than just staying in backpackers and mooching around, so I would seek out innovative and impactful projects to volunteer at. Some of those led to paid work, or could have. It does happen. All of them were amazing experiences. Volunteering definitely helped build my CV, networks in the sector and skill base as a young person.
I worked at Greenpeace New Zealand managing their volunteer programme we would have a few volunteers a year who were actively keen on securing a permanent paid role. I remember that happening precisely once in my years there. It was sort of awkward at times. There were clearly delineated roles within the organisation and even though they were fabulous talented people, sometimes you just knew the volunteer’s skill set and character wasn’t going to be a good fit.
If it’s your dream, my advice would be to give it a go. If no paid roles you qualify for come up after six months make an informed and passionate proposal about why hiring you will enrich the organisation and their work. You might as well. Do this before any resentment seeps into work ethic. If your plan doesn’t fly, you will have tried and made good connections for future work in the process and can leave with good feelings all-round. Who knows there may be future roles that fit you to a Tee, and you might be top of mind at recruitment time in the years to come.
And if you can afford to do a stint volunteering to build your CV, transition into a different role or get work experience after re-training, then it’s a win. Employers like to see initiative and community service on your CV. Go for it!
When Volunteering Leads to Paid Positions
And sometimes dreams do come true:
Gareth Hughes was a star volunteer at Greenpeace NZ and used references from his time volunteering there when he went for a job at the Green Party. He is now an MP.
And one lovely woman was passionate about Greenpeace’s work and was a keen repeat volunteer for years before she and advocates within the organisation added their weight to create a new position she was perfect for.
Dreams do come true. Sometimes!
Enjoyed this post on volunteering? You might also be interested in our other posts: Change your career: 3 tips to find new & fulfilling work and Volunteering your way to awesome (jobs).