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Volunteering can help your job search

i-want-youI don’t believe much in touchy-feely motivational stuff, and I really squirm in my chair when a speaker makes you yell stuff out loud. That’s not to say I don’t believe in the concept, though. I just think that as an adult, it’s your responsibility to motivate yourself.

So I nodded my head dutifully when I heard people saying that helping others will help you in a job search. Sure.

Well, over the past few months, I’ve been doing a lot of presentations, workshops, and writing about things you can do to improve your chances of getting found on the Internet. It’s part of your passive job search efforts. I’ve also been active with some local job support groups in various ways.

How does this help me?

  • It makes me feel good. I can’t believe I said that, but it’s true. Sounds trite, but when you’re out there trying to find work in a disastrous market, you simply don’t get much positive feedback. For many people, your sense of self-worth is inexorably tied to the work you’re doing. If you’re not working, you don’t feel so good.
  • Your good deeds really do come back to benefit you. If you put yourself out there long enough, and unselfishly, people will help you. They will help you in many ways, starting with encouragement, and going all the way through finding you gigs or even permanent jobs. (As if anything is permanent anymore.)

So much for the boiler plate. Now let’s get down to brass tacks. I’m going to talk about some things that volunteering has done for me – besides making me feel better, which doesn’t pay the bills.

jobconnectionslogoeu-logoFirst, something about how I volunteer. I belong to Job Connections and Experience Unlimited. It may be a small thing, but I started just by helping to put chairs away after the sessions. This wasn’t so easy, because when I started this, I was using two crutches. I made friends. These new friends gave me encouragement, but also important feedback, and they connected me to other people who like to give. And believe me, there are plenty of us around. Some (most) don’t want anything back, but almost everyone’s spirits are lifted when you get something and also give something.

I was developing some tools for my job search, which I shared with these new friends. They liked what I was doing, and encouraged me to share these things with others. That’s how I came to do my first presentation on job search tools I built that might help you. The response was overwhelming! And that encouraged me to refine my tools, and offer them to others.

To date, I’ve done many presentations (too many to remember – no jokes about my memory, please). I reckon I’ve spoken to about 1,500 people altogether. I’ve gotten a lot of help from some close friends who are also volunteers for job seekers. People who liked my presentations encouraged other groups to invite me to speak.

So how does that put money on the table? (I mix my metaphors, but we’ll burn that bridge while we’re on it.) Like many, I’m being forced to reinvent myself. I can’t reasonably expect to get a job in a startup for many reasons:

  • startups are scarce, funding has mostly dried up
  • there are lots of people ready, willing, and better connected who will get to these startups before I do
  • frankly, my dear, I’m too old – I’d be working with people who could be my grandchildren

So, I’m becoming a subject matter expert on personal branding – how you get found on the Internet. And my volunteering efforts have fueled that burgeoning career. All those people I’ve presented to: they helped me develop what I am turning into sellable products. Like Broadway plays, I’ve developed my performance on the road, and soon I’ll be opening for real.

I found a new calling through volunteer efforts. You can too. You may have no idea what that is right now, but if you work at it long and hard, you too will come up with something that you can uniquely do.

Now, let me take this a step further. First, it ain’t true that if you build it they will come – at least for most of us. That means that you have to promote your “products” – your personal brand and subject matter expertise. Here’s a rough chronology of my efforts:

  1. My presentations led to offers at other venues.
  2. Lots of presentations let me refine my message, content, and delivery.
  3. This led one of my fellow volunteers to set up a news story that was covered by local TV.
  4. My blog started to get noticed, and I started to figure out how to write posts that would get more readership.
  5. Another site owner liked my blog and asked me to write guest posts for their site.
  6. jibberjobberlogoJason Alba, a connection I made initially by posting comments on his posts, republished one of my articles – big increase in readership, which continues.
  7. A developing relationship with Jason – who is inarguably a thought leader (not just a SME) – led to a presentation he did for one of the groups I belong to, which further polished my image as a personal branding SME.
  8. This new found following gave me the credibility to help organize a group of job support organizations in the Bay Area – and who knows where that will go?
  9. I can now reasonably claim that “I can help you get found on the Internet.”
  10. I will have some credentials to display, and maybe even some testimonials, when I put together my for-sale products.
  11. My rates increase from zero to something that will provide sustainable income.

This is my path to a new career – I hope. But even if it isn’t, it sure was worthwhile helping so many people. One person wrote me a wonderful thank you note about how some of my techniques helped him land a job. And just yesterday, I received a thank you that said “I now have a blog site thru wordpress, google email ID, have google reader setup, using workit – all because of your class.” That no-charge class was something I offered at Job Connections three days ago.

One of my ambitions is to prove to you that YOU can do what I did. I won’t say it was a trivial exercise. Lots of hard work and long hours. Maybe even a little obsession (is that an oxymoron?). But everything I did is achievable without technical knowledge. It wasn’t simple putting this all together, but for people who attend my sessions, it’s all there, neatly wrapped up. And it all started with simple volunteering.

Posted in Personal branding.

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3 Responses

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  1. Pedro Silva says

    I really like the message in this post and I will reference it in my upcoming blog post. Good luck with everything. I like where you’re headed.

Continuing the Discussion

  1. How To Volunteer In The Job Search | Career Management Alliance Blog linked to this post on April 17, 2009

    […] exposure in front of potential audience. Good stuff?  Here’s a post from Walt Feigenson called Volunteering can help your job search. What am I missing? Print This […]

  2. Practice Being a Coworker « linked to this post on August 10, 2009

    […] So what are some ways that you can practice being a coworker before you actually land a job?  Well, the first one is obvious–volunteering.  Volunteering is the perfect way to stay in the groove while you’re on a job search and the best thing is there’s no awkward salary negotiation.  Unfortunately, most people feel volunteering takes away time that they could be spending on job hunting when it actually couldn’t be further from the truth.  To hear more on volunteering check out this post from Walter Feigenson entitled “Volunteering can help you on your job search.” […]