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Improve Your Résumé With Volunteer Work

In between jobs? Do some good and build your professional skills, too

Job hunting? Volunteer work will raise your job prospects

Job hunting? Volunteer work can help raise your job prospects. — Getty Images

Working for free is probably not at the top of your mind right now, especially if your nest egg isn't quite what it used to be. But if you've been job hunting fruitlessly, offering up your talent on a pro bono basis could help you land the job you want.

See also: Which type of of résumé is best?

How so? Career strategists say volunteering your professional skills can strengthen your job history, expand your elbow-rubbing network and boost your self-confidence.

“You get a chance to give back, but it also allows you to keep networking and keep your skills fresh,” says Ken Schmitt, president of Turning Point Executive Search, which offers career coaching and finds job opportunities for mid-career and senior-level professionals. “In a pure selfish way, you can keep your résumé up to date. You don't have this blank gap in your résumé.”

That's important today when more employers are viewing out-of-work applicants as undesirable. And a recent report from AARP's Public Policy Institute shows that older Americans are staying unemployed longer than their younger counterparts. Reasons could be chalked up to age discrimination, outdated skills or just a lack of jobs. Still, doing nothing shouldn't be an option, experts say.

"When you leave a job, it's like driving a car off the lot; a car that depreciates is just like one losing his or her job skills rapidly. Volunteer in that field to stay sharp and stay up with what's going on," says Charles Talley, virtual job coach with the AARP Foundation Virtual Job Coach Program. "The world is really changing. The things we did yesterday are not the things we'll be doing tomorrow."

Feeding the homeless or stuffing envelopes may be well-meaning ways to give. But to add some oomph to your résumé, consider helping those same organizations by offering to do what you're good at. It might be customer service, marketing, recruiting, office management, fundraising or computer technology. Nonprofits, especially, will be glad to have you.

"We have noticed in the last few years that people are coming to us because they feel it's a good time while they're in transition," says Stacey Winter, program manager with the New York office of the Taproot Foundation, which matches the business talent of some 4,000 "consultants" with nonprofits in need. Volunteers commit to working three to five hours a week on six-month engagements. Likewise, Catchafire.org helps nonprofits and social enterprises leverage the skills of professionals who are in New York and online.

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