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Advice / Career Paths / Career Change

The Underrated Way for Career Changers to Get Experience in Their New Field

I knew switching careers—transitioning from sales to recruiting—was going to be challenging, considering I had zero recruiting experience. But I wanted to make it happen. So, I could either start just applying for roles, hoping my transferable skills would be enough, or I could seek out experience that would make me a competitive candidate first.

I went with the second option and began exploring volunteer roles that would allow me to develop my recruiting skill set. While I’ve always been a proponent of community action and had offered up my time throughout my life here or there, I’d never before thought about how it could change my career path.

This time around, I did. I ended up at Friends of Refugees, an organization that assists refugees in finding work. It not only offered the exact experience I needed to get, but it also gave me a chance to see if I actually liked recruiting. (I did!)

For me, volunteering’s been the gift that keeps on giving. It reduced stress in my life at a time when I was struggling to make a change, and it provided me with an enhanced sense of purpose—all while enabling me to grow and expand upon my professional skills, build my network, and get my resume ready for a major transition.

If you’re also looking to change industries, don’t overlook the benefits of volunteering.

Volunteering Builds Hands-on Experience

Anyone aiming to change careers has a tough road ahead. This uncharted territory will likely require skills that you’ve yet to develop. You can bridge the transition by opting for an opportunity that guarantees exposure and first-hand experience—and allows you to give back to the community and find purpose and meaning.

Let’s say you want to move from a career in graphic design to one in urban planning, but you don’t have any idea where to begin. Look into your local neighborhood association to see how you can contribute to projects aimed at assisting residents and businesses.

Before you worry that this unpaid experience isn’t valuable, a LinkedIn survey states that 41% of LinkedIn hiring managers consider volunteer work equally as valuable as paid work experience when evaluating candidates.

Volunteering Expands Your Network

It should go without saying, that doing this will involve meeting tons of new people. As you get to know other professionals, you can begin to share your aspirations and start to put the word out about what kind of work you’re looking for.

Even if your stint only lasts a few months, the people you meet during that time can remain connections long after the fact. In fact, the people you meet may become important mentors or members of your network. After all, the more contacts you have when you put the word out there that you’re looking for a full-time gig, the better.

Plus, it’s an incredible learning opportunity to connect with people leading organizations that you’re interested in. You can gain needed knowledge about a new industry from veterans in the field, and what better way to do it than when you’re working side by side?

Volunteering Feels Good

As you prepare for your career move, step into it with some wins under your belt. Excelling in a volunteer role is as valuable as killing it in a paid position, but there’s something about the former that just feels good. Giving of yourself and your time to assist those in need is a truly wonderful thing, and you’ll hopefully find that you want to continue even after you’ve gained the experience you wanted.

Honestly, I wasn’t sure of the so-called “helper’s high”. But after working with Friends of Refugees, I can attest that it definitely exists and is a real thing.

If you’re still not sold on the idea, let my experience speak to it. On my first day at Friends of Refugees, I introduced myself to the director, told her what I knew about the organization and how I thought I could chip in to assist in their mission. I went on to lay out my prior experiences, as well as my motivation for contributing.

I explained that it was twofold: First, having relocated five times in the past 10 years for different work-related opportunities, I yearned to be part of a community, and second, I was looking to transition from sales to recruiting and needed to cultivate skills and gain exposure to the ins and outs of this new type of work.

I was welcomed with open arms, told to jump right in, and in time was given increased responsibility that continued to correspond with the qualifications I sought to develop. In the process, I made a contact who became a good friend (and reference). Like the old saying goes, give and it shall be given. I believe that volunteering is a great first step into a career change.

Photo of two people talking courtesy of Arnold Media/Getty Images.