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Volunteer Your Way Back into the Workforce!

by Carol Fishman Cohen

A great way to make the transition from home to work is to start by doing meaningful volunteer work.

Take Cathy Paris for instance. Cathy was a medical social worker who took a 17-year career break, waiting until her second child entered college before she began the process of returning to work. Still interested in the medical social work field, Cathy started back by working as a volunteer in a hospice. She hadn't been there six months when one of her fellow volunteer workers (let's call her "Sue") took a paid job at another hospice, coordinating the volunteers there. Not wanting to take the position on full time, Sue asked Cathy to job share. Cathy agreed and that's what they are doing today.

When Cathy is ready to apply for a full-time job in medical social work, she now has two relevant and current experiences on her resume: her volunteer hospice position and her paid hospice volunteer coordinator position. Plus, in her current position, she comes in contact with visiting medical social workers on a regular basis, and they keep her informed about job openings and the best places to work as a medical social worker.

We call mid-career professionals in all stages of career break interested in returning to work "relaunchers" and the process "relaunching." Relaunching occurs in a series of smaller steps, often including volunteer work. A relauncher we interviewed for Back on the Career Track submitted as a writing sample a press release she had written as a volunteer for a city ballet company when she applied (and was accepted) for a position as a freelance writer at a newspaper's weekly magazine. A lawyer on career break volunteered to write legal briefs for a state appeals bureau. Her brief writing was excellent and this skill was in such demand that when she suggested they hire her for a part-time paid position doing the same work, they agreed immediately.

Another avenue for "strategic volunteering," as we call it, is to volunteer with your professional organization. If your professional organization does not offer programming for people coming off of career break, then offer to create it for them. Also offer to organize other professional updating and networking events. This role will enable you to come in contact with employers interested in hiring from the pool of talent on career break and with universities interested in updating this pool.

Also search out volunteer organizations that provide resume-worthy volunteer experiences.The Junior League offers opportunities in website management, newsletter publication, event organization, public speaking and fundraising. Habitat for Humanity offers experiences in construction project management. Alfa Demmellash, CEO of Rising Tide Capital, provides references to prospective employers for her volunteers, who act as mentors and consultants for inner city entrepreneurs as they start and grow their businesses.

Be creative in choosing volunteer work where you can help others, and jump start your career relaunch in the process.

Photo Credit: http://www.bgcmerced.org/Images/Images/volunteer.gif