When you finish school, you have a few options for your next step: get an internship, join the Peace Corps, find a job, or travel the world on the celebratory yacht your parents bought you.
Aside from the yacht, finding a job and paying off your student loans as quickly as possible may sound like your best bet. However, volunteering or interning first could put you on a more promising career path than taking the first job offer that'll pays the bills.
Even if you're not a fresh-faced college student, both volunteering and interning can be great for transitioning from one career to another. Let's say you have a day job that isn't really going anywhere. If you volunteer or intern part time, you can learn management and planning skills. Pretty soon, you'll have a powerful résumé with a host of great skills that you may not have picked up from that other job.
If you're passionate about something outside of work or you want to learn some new skills, volunteering can be a great way to gain a bit of extracurricular fulfillment. It could also provide you with some opportunities to network with people who share your interests. With a little luck, you'll be able to turn those new skills and connections into a career you really care about.
One of the best aspects of volunteering is the freedom. You can literally volunteer in any part of the world you want, from a small village in another country to your own community. You also can offer your time when and how you want—just remember that people are counting on you to show up. And because there's such a need for volunteers, it's easy to get into a managerial position like organizer, planner, etc.
When listing volunteer work on your résumé, put it right with your paid work experience. You gain skills in each, so give your volunteering the weight it deserves—especially if you were there for a year or longer.
Definitely mention that the work was unpaid, but focus on the title you held, like "development coordinator" or "construction supervisor," to grab the hiring manager's attention. Include any skills relevant to the position you're applying for. Did you have to speak publicly? Did you create newsletters and public relations materials? Be sure to list those things on your résumé.
Volunteering doesn't typically have a contract, but interning usually does. That means, as an intern, you're required to complete specific tasks in a certain timeframe. So, try to find an internship that will let you test out the career you're interested in. That way, the requirements will be very close to or the same as your future job.
Internships offer many benefits, including access to hard-to-enter fields and companies. You know that one company that's super exclusive and amazing? You know, the one where you don't think you could ever get hired in a million years? Well, odds are they can use an intern. If nothing else, interning at your dream job might be the once-in-a-lifetime experience you'll take with you wherever you go.
You're going to list your internship experience on your résumé along with your other work experience, so act like you would at any other job. Show up on time, give your full attention to every task, and take responsibility for your contributions. When you update your résumé, highlight your accomplishments and the projects you worked on while interning—especially anything that pertains to the job you're applying for.
Leverage Your Experiences
In today's job market, it's more important than ever to make your résumé stand out. Volunteering and interning are some of the most effective ways to do just that. Remember to highlight your skills, like organization, communication, and flexibility, while demonstrating your commitment to a cause. You'll gain connections and memories that you never expected—and you'll probably wind up a few steps closer to landing your dream job.