A friend of mine has a notepad on her refrigerator that reads, "Stop Me Before I Volunteer Again!" Sound familiar? I am sure this is a common problem for many of you, especially during the first few months of the fall. Unfortunately, volunteering can sometimes be a double-edged sword for back-to-work moms. You'd like to be a good community citizen and you want to help out, but volunteering can turn into a time drain that prevents you from concentrating on job-search related activities.
To help avoid the trap of either volunteering or concentrating on your back-to-work job search, I'd like to suggest that you instead consider doing "targeted volunteering" and instead of waiting for people to approach you about volunteer jobs you don't really want to do (i.e., chairing the bake sale committee), you proactively seek out challenging assignments with organizations that really interest you. You'll be happier; they'll benefit from your hard work; and in the process, you'll gain new skills, contacts and experiences to help bolster your resume when you're ready to return to work. Whether you're thinking of starting your own business or contemplating a return to the office, here are four ways to turn into a "career-smart" volunteer:
1. Chair a committee for a professional association: One of my clients did this when she was trying to break into the field of training and development and within two years she was elected president of her local chapter of the American Society for Training and Development. She then used the contacts and skills gained from her volunteer experience as a springboard into her new business as a public speaking coach and trainer.
2. Accept volunteer assignments with organizations that are aligned with your career interests: Thinking about becoming a teacher? Volunteer at your child's school and learn more about the day-to-day challenges of being a teacher. Interested in grant-writing? Seek out opportunities to write a grant for a local community agency. Find organizations where you can test out new skills and build up your resume.
3. Consider serving as president of your group: While it is always helpful to serve on the board, serving as president will bring you a special level of status and notice. As president of a volunteer organization you'll have opportunities to polish your management, public-speaking and long-range planning skills. This is a smart way to add relevant leadership skills to your resume without the pressures associated with a "real" full-time job.
4. Join a non-profit board: Volunteer to serve on the board of directors of a high-profile organization. The people you'll meet will help broaden your sphere of knowledge and influence and you'll enhance your management skills at the same time.
Enjoy these tips? Take a look at our exclusive Back-to-Work Toolkit: A Guide for Comeback Moms, a course designed specifically for professional moms returning to work!!