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January 8, 2010
Volunteering Creates Contacts

One of the problems with being out of work is that it suddenly gives you a lot of extra time to fill. Getting a job is a full time job in itself, but after you’ve visited all the job sites, and called around to the people you know, trying to stir the waters, you may find that you still have some extra time on your hands.

What to do with it? Volunteer. There are hundreds of organizations in every town and city that depend upon contributions and the efforts of volunteers to get work done, and in a down economy, they need even more help than normal, because they are often asked to do more. Where I live, for example, the local food bank has seen an increase of more than 11,000 families asking for aid in the past year – a more than 33% increase! Not only do they need more contributions in the way of food, they need help in processing what comes in. The same goes for all sorts of other organizations, such as my local hospital, which recently gave out 15,000 flu shots in two days.

The value of volunteering isn’t only in the good you can do the community, which is considerable and noble. It is also in the good you can do yourself. Volunteering widens your circle of acquaintances and it gives you both the chance to impress people with your willingness to work as well as develop some additional skills, which demonstrates flexibility and adaptability to new situations, which is valued in today’s economy. Moreover, you never know whom you’re going to meet. I know of at least one case where a friend met the wife of the CEO of a company he wanted to work for, and via his efforts on behalf of the charity, persuaded the wife to speak to her husband on his behalf. The result was a new job, at a higher level than he was applying for. My friend continues to volunteer at the same charity, and has even begun giving money to it out of his increased salary.

While this is anecdotal and has a Horatio Alger feel-good aspect to it, using volunteer work to widen your circle is nevertheless an effective way to stretch your job -antennae. Given that there is so much need out there, and so many jobs to be done, it is a worthwhile use of your time. Sometimes, it even pays off directly. The wife of another friend, who was not looking for a job, began volunteering in the office of her daughter’s private school. Within two years she had become paid director of admissions, and within three years after that, she was suddenly offered the job of school head – from stay-at-home Mom to a six-figure position in five years. My friend’s wife employed all of the skills that every mother uses every day – organizational, discipline and budgetary skills that are needed to make household decisions. She simply amplified them and extended the time horizon from day to day and week to week to a school calendar year and beyond.

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Stephen Kindel is the Chief Operating Officer of The Bronx Project, a startup pharmaceutical company. He has had many jobs, written many books and hired many people over his career. His latest book, Skill Sets, is available by contacting him at

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