In a competitive job environment, I have often advised that clients and readers consider volunteering and/or interning for free in order to gain some valuable experience and/or to bridge a gap (in experience/in time since last worked for pay, etc.)
Adult internships are not new. In fact, in a New York Times article from two years ago, Elizabeth Pope wrote that:
Adult internships emerged about 10 years ago as the concept of “golden years” retirement expanded to include paid work, volunteering or pursuing a life passion, said Mark Oldman, a co-founder of the career site Vault.com.
A more recent piece by Tory Johnson reminds readers that an unpaid internship can be a great way to get experience that is directly related to your target job. It’s a good idea for people changing careers or planning to go back to school. Kind of a “try before you buy” approach.
Eve Tahmincioglu explored the legal ramifications of for-profit organizations working with unpaid interns in a story for Time Magazine this month. (Hat tip @heymarci.) Eve notes,Ã‚Â “Michael Schmidt, an employment attorney in New York City, has seen an uptick in recent months in private employers calling him to find out if they can bring in unpaid interns as a way to cut costs. His answer: volunteering at for-profit companies is, legally, a no-no. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has spelled out several criteria with the goal of ensuring that internships not only provide real training but also can’t be used by companies to displace regular employees.”
This is really the month for focusing on legal issues for unpaid interns. Steven Greenhouse wrote a piece for the April 2nd New York Times exploring the fact that “Leading federal and state regulators…worry that more employers are illegally using such internships for free labor.” The piece notes, “The rules for unpaid interns are less strict for non-profit groups like charities because people are allowed to do volunteer work for non-profits.” (Thanks @workinggirl for sharing the link.)
Clearly, this is a tricky issue, but nonprofit organizations may not be so concerned, as they are allowed to work with volunteers. So, especially if you are considering working for a nonprofit, it may make sense to log some valuable volunteer hours to indicate your strong interest in the organization. In some cases, your hard work and hours as a volunteer may help put you first in line for a job should one become available.
Encore.org has a very useful (and free) ebook on the subject of how to turn volunteering into a job. They suggest:
- Find volunteer work in an organization whose mission you share.
- Offer your expertise.
- Show your range.
- Make yourself indispensable.
- Identify an organizational need.
- Incorporate your volunteer work into your resume.
The ebook (available to download HERE) offers practical tips and resources and reminds careerists to focus on the experience and its usefulness rather than expect that it will lead to a job .
Be sure to visit Encore.org for many resources to help transitioning professionals.
photo by SanJose library