Volunteer work and internships may help job seekers improve prospects

Today’s job seekers are facing a challenging economy, an elevated unemployment rate and unprecedented competition that makes obtaining top-tier finance jobs difficult. It’s common to hear stories about graduates and experienced professionals sending out dozens of applications or undergoing several interviews before finally landing a job. This scenario can be discouraging, especially when you’ve worked hard on your resume, written a great cover letter and expanded your networking skills. However, there are several other lesser-known steps you can take in your free time to help improve your chances of getting a job.

For example, volunteering your time is a great way to not only expand your network further, but also demonstrate to employers that you are a go-getter, a hard worker and are engaged in civic activities. In fact, a 2012 study conducted by the Corporation for National and Community Service found that unemployed individuals who volunteer increase their chances of securing employment by 27 percent, the Washington Post reports. This is particularly true for those with limited education or those who live in rural areas, the study found.

“The study findings suggest that folks who tend to volunteer less typically have less human and social capital,” said Christopher Spera, director of research and evaluation for the corporation and lead author of the study, according to the Post. “Folks with lower levels of education tend not to have the networks and social capital enjoyed by folks with higher levels of education.”

Keep in mind that volunteering, while beneficial at helping you learn new skills, should not be used as a replacement for training. In addition to lending your time to those in need, you should take advantage of other career-building opportunities, such as taking a computer engineering course or getting certified in a new accounting program in your free time.

“In a complex 21st-century economy that demands new skills of American workers, volunteerism is not a substitute for job training,” said former U.S. Department of Labor secretary Hilda Solis. “But it can be an important complement. And it can be a way to give a leg up to job seekers who’ve decided that enrolling in a training program is not the right choice for them at this time. . . . The truth is volunteering may actually expose job seekers to new job opportunities.”

Internships also beneficial in expanding your job prospects
Many people overlook internships for their future job prospects, but these short-term jobs – whether paid or unpaid – demonstrate to employers that you have legitimate job experience and that you beat out other competitors for the internship position. In many cases, an internship with a solid finance company can lead to a job right out of school or give applicants a competitive edge years later. Forbes reported on the results of a 2012 National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) study, which found that college graduates working at a paid internship have a 60 percent chance of that position turning into a job. This number decreases to 37 percent for those working in unpaid internships, but these statistics are still hopeful and advantageous for job seekers.

Finding a job in a tough market can be discouraging at times, but it’s important to remember that your chances of securing employment increase significantly when you fill your time with activities that expose you to people and experiences. Therefore, if you’re struggling to find a position, seek out charities, non-profits, internships, career-training courses and other activities to both expand your network and use your extra time wisely.