Amber Liang, a former JET participant in Kochi Prefecture, shares her experience using volunteer work to boost her resume and land a job. She is now gainfully employed and serving on the JETAA New York Board of Directors.
Volunteering. What does that word conjure up? For many people, the first thing that comes to mind might be images of serving food at a soup kitchen, cleaning up the local park, or perhaps even, playing bingo at your neighborhood senior home. How does this actually lead to a job, you might ask? In the right context, volunteering can be a very effective strategy for laying the groundwork for a career, especially if you can mold the experience to suit your professional needs. To prove my point, I’m going to use my personal experience volunteering for JETAA New York (JETAANY) as a case study.
When I returned from my unforgettable two years on JET, I was remarkably optimistic that I would have no trouble finding a job in New York–naively so, because two weeks after my return, Lehman Brothers announced it was filing for bankruptcy and, well, you know the rest of the story. Needless to say, it was a rough time. I signed up with a number of temp agencies, but there wasn’t much that came my way and the jobs that did weren’t ones I could base a career off of. After weeks of doing nothing, I decided to get out of the house and went to my first JETAA event—the annual softball tournament, to be exact—where I met some awesome JET alumni, many of whom became excellent sounding boards for me; they told me about their careers and gave me some valuable advice on how to approach mine. This brings me to LESSON #1: Use your volunteering experience to build your network. Do not be afraid to speak candidly to everyone you meet. Networking with those you volunteer with is the perfect way to develop relationships in a more casual way than traditional networking avenues.
In the course of my conversations, I mentioned the fact that I had organized a number of events while on JET. I was speaking to none other than Steven Horowitz, founder of JETWit, and he invited me to help him produce an author showcase with some prominent JET alumni. Of course, having nothing better to do, I enthusiastically accepted. The event was widely successful and it confirmed that I not only enjoyed organizing events but I was also good at it. LESSON #2: Use volunteering as a way to work on your own skills and learn about your inner passions. This really gave me the confidence to run for secretary of JETAANY and continue producing events including a play reading of Sake with the Haiku Geisha, written by JET alumnus Randall David Cook.
When I went to apply for jobs, I now had substantive experience and results that I could talk about. I could also narrow down the types of jobs I wanted to that involving project management and event planning. When employers asked me what I was doing while I was unemployed, I could honestly and proudly say that I was being very productive. Lesson #3: Work your volunteering into your resume. I brought the flyers that I had created to my interviews and I showed them lists of all the events that I had organized on JETAANY. Long story short, I eventually got a job that I really wanted working in both program management and event planning, and what really brought it full circle was that my new boss knew Randall David Cook. Talk about making your network work for you!
In today’s tight job market, it’s important to stay relevant and engaged, and even more so if you are unemployed. You’d be surprised at how forgiving employers are when it comes to unconventional experiences, like volunteering, as long as you can tie it all it. So I encourage you to consider your passions, build your network, and volunteer your way to a job.
Did you volunteer your way to a job? Let us know any lessons you learned or resources in the comments.
(Hungry for more job search advice from JET alumni? Check out The Job Search section of our online Returnee Handbook).