Utilising Skills Learned in the Voluntary Sector to Return to Paid Employment

Whether you’ve been caring for children, running your own small business, or had a lengthy period of unemployment, it can be daunting trying to make your way back to the traditional paid work force. Sometimes it feels like people don’t take you seriously and it can be hard to get employers to see that you’ve been acquiring new skills even while you weren’t earning a regular salary. Salary.com may do an annual survey measuring what a Mom is worth ($112,962 per annum in 2012) but that doesn’t mean an HR director will value your skills when sifting through a stack of resumes. The move to online applications with their key-word criteria can make it even harder to get in the door. Having been through this ourselves and helped guide others through the process over the years, we’ve tried to capture a few ideas to help you make the most of the skills and increase your chances of landing an interview.

Begin at the begining and identify what it is you like to do. Take the back of an old envelope and draw a line through the middle. On the top half jot down the things you liked doing in your last job and in any volunteer work you do. This isn’t an exhaustive list of everything you like to do in life (which is why you only get the back of an envelope) and it isn’t about discovering your hidden passion for Ikebana. It is a quick list of those things that make work exciting (or even tolerable) to you. On the bottom half, make note of all the things you didn’t like doing. Be honest with yourself. For example, I loved thinking up activity ideas for the boy’s scout group, assembling the necessary materials and creating the delivery plan. Being surrounded by 23 small boys doing 27 different things, not so much. I will absolutely not be following many of my friends who are returning to work by becoming primary school teachers. If you love being the treasurer of the school PTA because you like the detailed work of assuring an events financial success but you don’t like making calls asking for donations, that’s important. You may be happier in a back office role that in a sales job. If you love helping out with the reading group at your kids school but don’t like stuffing envelopes in the school office, you probably want to look for jobs that are people (possibly little people) facing rather than coding transactions in a cubicle not speaking to anyone all day. Using this quick exercise can help you identify the kinds of jobs you should be applying for as they will be a better fit for your personality.

Next you need to qualify and quantify the skills you have. You need to articulate what you’ve learned in the time you weren’t in paid employment. A line on your resume that says “Chair of the Jones School Annual Summer Party” doesn’t tell a potential employer that this is an event attended by 1500 people, requiring the management of 150 volunteers and 25 vendors over three months. You may have a full piece of paper for this one but try to stick to bullet points. Have you managed people? Created budgets? Learned to use a specific piece of computer software? Written an iPhone application? Become a master communicator on Twitter? We are all continually learning so step back and think about the skills you’ve acquired and how you did it. A friend of mine helped with a lot of auctions over the course of putting four boys through Catholic schools. As the last one was finishing she was approached by a software company who wanted to launch a product for running school auctions. She spent five years helping them develop and launch a product that end users loved because she had inadvertantly learned the business while volunteering.

Part of what you will need to communicate to potential employers in your online bio, cover letter and conversations, is how skills you’ve learned outside of paid employment are applicable in their environment. It may be hard for someone to see how being a volunteer at the local food bank qualifies you to be the office coordinator at the health club. It is up to you to demonstrate that the experience you had scheduling volunteers is the same skill set required to make up a staff rota for the fitness room and the people skills you learned helping those who were going through hard times will make it very easy for you to soothe the ruffled feathers of a member who is dissatisfied with the wait for a treadmill.

As you consider the move back to paid employment, you need to be clear how much time you have available. Assuming you have the financial options open to you, think about whether you want something along the lines of a traditional 40 hours a week in the office, something part-time but structured, or something entirely flexible that allows you to set your own rules. Keep in mind that, unlike volunteer work, you will absolutely need to be there when you say you will so you need to have child care cover in case of illness and those long school holidays. Last year a six month consulting contract came up for strategic planning of a national company that perfectly fit my expertise and background. It was the ideal contract for me. Except it started a week before the summer holidays began, I had no child care cover, vacation plans and three other projects running. Knowing I have a limited amount of time in the day, I take a lot of projects in other time zones so I can work in the evenings. If you need to work a full time job for financial reasons that is what you do. If you have some leeway, think about how much of your family time or your personal time you are willing to commit to an employer.

Using your thoughts about the kinds of work you enjoy, your skills, and your desired outcomes, write a concise and compelling biography. Two paragraphs should be sufficient. This brief summary encapsulates who you are and where you want to go. It can then be the basis of you bio on career related social media sites like LinkedIn and Monster.com or be incorporated into a cover letter. It will also help prepare you for networking with people and talking about yourself in career terms again.

You may want to consider using or at least writing a functional (rather than chronological) resume. These have gone in and out of favor over the last twenty years. As someone re-entering the paid work force, they can be useful as they summarise your skills and experience rather than highlighting blocks of time out of work. Employers know that so you aren’t fooling anyone with this technique but it may help you present yourself in a more positive manner – just be prepared to answer questions about your time out of the paid work force. Even if you don’t use it with potential employers, simply writing one will help drill down further on the skills exercise so that when asked what your skills are you articulate them easily.

Network, network, network. We had to come to it eventually. Pouring through job posting online is only going to get you so far. With a non-traditional career path it is even more important because your resume is less likely to get through the online screening algorithms being used to review applications. Joshua Waldman has some terrific tips on surviving the new job application process. You need to participate online with social media like LinkedIn and Twitter so that you have an online presence. This builds your reputation and can connect you with people who may be able to get you in the door when your resume won’t. Join groups and participate in chats in areas related to your interests. You never know when you’ll stumble over the right person or idea for your next move. More importantly you need to network with the people you know in real life. Tell the people you volunteer with, mother’s you chat with in the park, the guy behind you in line at Starbucks, that you are thinking of making a change. Let them know the kinds of things you are looking at and ask them to keep you in mind if they hear of anything. It may be that they know someone starting a business that needs extra help or a favorite shop they were just in is hiring. You need to put yourself forward and ask for help rather than waiting for a door to open.

Re-entering the workforce isn’t easy but if you take time to consider your strengths and skills, you can make a success of it. Good luck.

Add a Blog

77 COMMENTS

  1. This design is steller! You obviously know how to
    keep a reader amused. Between your wit and your videos, I was almost moved to start my own blog (well,
    almost…HaHa!) Wonderful job. I really enjoyed what you had to say,
    and more than that, how you presented it. Too cool!

  2. I do agree with all of the ideas you’ve presented in your post. They’re really convincing and will definitely work. Still, the posts are too short for starters. Could you please extend them a bit from next time? Thanks for the post.

  3. Hello, I think your blog might be having browser compatibility issues.
    When I look at your website in Opera, it looks fine
    but when opening in Internet Explorer, it has some overlapping.
    I just wanted to give you a quick heads up!

    Other then that, fantastic blog!

  4. This design is steller! You definitely know how to keep a reader amused. Between your wit and your videos, I was almost moved to start my own blog (well, almost…HaHa!) Fantastic job. I really loved what you had to say, and more than that, how you presented it. Too cool!

  5. Thanks for your post. I also think that laptop computers have grown to be more and more popular these days, and now tend to be the only sort of computer found in a household. It is because at the same time they are becoming more and more economical, their computing power is growing to the point where they are as highly effective as pc’s out of just a few years back.

  6. Someone essentially help to make seriously articles I would state. This is the first time I frequented your web page and thus far? I surprised with the research you made to make this particular publish incredible. Fantastic job!

  7. Thanks for the helpful write-up. It is also my opinion that mesothelioma has an particularly long latency period of time, which means that signs of the disease might not emerge until 30 to 50 years after the original exposure to mesothelioma. Pleural mesothelioma, which is the most common form and has effects on the area round the lungs, might cause shortness of breath, chest pains, plus a persistent cough, which may produce coughing up blood vessels.

  8. Today, considering the fast lifestyle that everyone leads, credit cards have a big demand throughout the economy. Persons throughout every discipline are using the credit card and people who not using the credit card have made up their minds to apply for one. Thanks for revealing your ideas about credit cards.

  9. That is very interesting, You are a very skilled blogger. I’ve joined your feed and sit up for in search of extra of your magnificent post. Also, I’ve shared your site in my social networks!

  10. Hmm is anyone else having problems with the images on this blog loading? I’m trying to determine if its a problem on my end or if it’s the blog. Any feed-back would be greatly appreciated.

  11. of course like your web-site but you need to check the spelling on several of your posts. Several of them are rife with spelling issues and I find it very troublesome to tell the truth nevertheless I will surely come back again.

  12. Hello, i feel that i noticed you visited my web site thus i came to “return the choose”.I am attempting to to find issues to enhance my site!I suppose its ok to use a few of your concepts!!

  13. I think other web site owners should take this web site as an model – very clean and magnificent style and design, not to mention the content. You are an expert in this topic!

  14. Hi there! Someone in my Myspace group shared this site with us so I came to take a look. I’m definitely enjoying the information. I’m book-marking and will be tweeting this to my followers! Fantastic blog and superb style and design.

  15. Hi there, i read your blog occasionally and i own a similar one and i was just wondering if you get a lot of spam comments? If so how do you reduce it, any plugin or anything you can advise? I get so much lately it’s driving me mad so any support is very much appreciated.

  16. The other day, while I was at work, my cousin stole my iPad and tested to see if it can survive a 25 foot drop, just so she can be a youtube sensation. My iPad is now broken and she has 83 views. I know this is completely off topic but I had to share it with someone!

  17. Once I initially commented I clicked the -Notify me when new feedback are added- checkbox and now every time a remark is added I get four emails with the same comment. Is there any approach you’ll be able to take away me from that service? Thanks!

  18. Aw, this was a really nice post. In idea I want to put in writing like this additionally – taking time and precise effort to make a very good article… however what can I say… I procrastinate alot and by no means seem to get one thing done.

  19. Hi there to all, I am also actually keen of learning Personal home pages programming, except I am new one, I every time used to examine posts related to PHP programming.

  20. Hey There. I found your weblog the use of msn. This is a really well written article. I will make sure to bookmark it and come back to read more of your helpful information. Thanks for the post. I will certainly comeback.

  21. Furthermore, i believe that mesothelioma cancer is a extraordinary form of most cancers that is commonly found in individuals previously exposed to asbestos. Cancerous tissue form inside the mesothelium, which is a shielding lining which covers most of the body’s body organs. These cells normally form inside the lining in the lungs, stomach, or the sac that really encircles one’s heart. Thanks for expressing your ideas.

  22. Thanks for the distinct tips discussed on this weblog. I have observed that many insurance firms offer shoppers generous reductions if they decide to insure a few cars with them. A significant variety of households currently have several cars these days, especially those with old teenage kids still dwelling at home, plus the savings for policies can soon mount up. So it pays to look for a great deal.

  23. naturally like your web site but you need to check the spelling on quite a few of your posts. A number of them are rife with spelling problems and I find it very bothersome to tell the truth nevertheless I will certainly come back again.

  24. I’ve been exploring for a little for any high-quality articles or weblog posts in this sort of space . Exploring in Yahoo I eventually stumbled upon this web site. Studying this information So i’m happy to exhibit that I’ve an incredibly just right uncanny feeling I discovered exactly what I needed. I so much no doubt will make certain to do not disregard this web site and give it a look on a constant basis.

  25. Wow, fantastic blog structure! How long have you been blogging for? you make running a blog glance easy. The overall glance of your site is fantastic, as well as the content material!

  26. I haven’t checked in here for a while as I thought it was getting boring, but the last few posts are really good quality so I guess I’ll add you back to my everyday bloglist. You deserve it my friend. :)

  27. This is really interesting, You’re a very skilled blogger. I have joined your feed and look forward to seeking more of your great post. Also, I have shared your site in my social networks!

  28. Hiya, I am really glad I have found this information. Today bloggers publish just about gossips and web and this is really frustrating. A good website with exciting content, that’s what I need. Thank you for keeping this web site, I will be visiting it. Do you do newsletters? Can not find it.

  29. Wow! This can be one of the most useful blogs we’ve ever come across on thesubject. Basically wonderful info! I’m also an expert in this topic therefore I can understand your hard work.

  30. If you are paying attention to learn Search engine optimization methods then you have to read this post, I am sure you will get much more from this paragraph regarding Web optimization.

  31. I would like to thank you for the efforts you have put in writing this site. I am hoping the same high-grade website post from you in the upcoming also. In fact your creative writing skills has inspired me to get my own site now. Really the blogging is spreading its wings fast. Your write up is a great example of it.

  32. Thanks for the strategies presented. One thing I also believe is credit cards supplying a 0 interest often lure consumers in with zero monthly interest, instant endorsement and easy online balance transfers, nevertheless beware of the real factor that is going to void your current 0 easy street annual percentage rate and throw one out into the bad house rapidly.

  33. One other issue is that if you are in a circumstance where you do not have a cosigner then you may really want to try to make use of all of your educational funding options. You can find many grants or loans and other scholarships or grants that will offer you money that can help with institution expenses. Thank you for the post.

  34. This is very interesting, You’re a very skilled blogger. I’ve joined your rss feed and search frontward to seeking very much more of one’s fantastic post. In addition, I ave shared your website in my social networks!

  35. Has anyone obtained any real success through HARO? It simply feels that the majority of of the reporters attached to the organization are usually from the US which have no much goals from other countries around the world specially in South Asia. Brian, can you direct me personally to any full scenario studies? Thanks.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here