Tales of a Disgruntled Graduate: A View from the Front Lines of the Post-College Job Hunt

Volunteering for Experience: Makeovers on the Fly

So your resume isn’t what it should be.  You’ve been thrown into the unemployment race with too little training, and your resume is just as breathless as you are.  Maybe you’re switching careers, maybe you’re just starting out, or maybe you’ve taken some time off and you’re trying to fill the gap since your last job.  Whatever the case may be, your resume is struggling to meet the challenge, and you’re left clutching the cramp in your side, wondering what to do next.

If you’ve done your research, you will have seen the advice on numerous career sites telling you to volunteer your time in return for a resume boost.

In theory, this makes sense.  Some sites suggest “concentrated” hours: one day a week for at least a month.  Sounds reasonable.  Volunteering will allow you to gain valuable experience to add to your resume, anecdotes to include in cover letters, and recent references to send off to potential employers.  It’s like working all your muscle groups and throwing in a bit of aerobic activity to boot.  In addition to the benefit of marketable skills, it’s likely that more doors will be open to your flabby resume when you work for free than if you actually tried to get paid for your time.

So, in theory, you’ll be able to find work to keep you busy—and you might even put a dent in those resume love handles—but let’s face it: Volunteering doesn’t pay the bills.

In reality, if you’re suddenly unemployed, you’ve probably got more on your plate than the state of your resume.  An extreme makeover would be nice, but you can’t stop the bills while you gain experience, and you can’t tell your stomach (or your kids’) to volunteer a fast while you make yourself look better on paper.  It’s a nice theory, but in practice, unless you’re in a financially-secure position, volunteering your time or pursuing hobbies to create a well-rounded resume may not be as easy as it sounds.

When you’re thrown into a race, sometimes all you can do is keep running and hope for the best.

Some of these advice sites also encourage you to hold out for a career-advancing position—that is, for the best opportunity, not the first to come along.  But how do you justify the wait?  Not everyone has help financing their unemployment.  Even if you choose to collect unemployment money, it may not be enough if you try to push your time too far.  And, if you do wait to accept an offer, you may have to start explaining the gap in your employment history—and volunteering will be back on the horizon again.  (Nothing like a little Catch-22 to keep the job-search interesting.)

Any way you look at it—whether volunteering in order to get your resume in shape, or slapping on an ice pack and gritting your teeth—you’d better get psyched and keep your elbows out as you pass the competition.  You’ll need every advantage you can get.

Of course, it wouldn’t  hurt to trim down your resume’s love handles, either.

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