Let’s face it; the job market out there right now is tough. Gone are the days when posting a resume on Monster.com would lead to multiple interviews. Today’s job seeker has to do something to set himself apart from the rest and one way to do this is by volunteering. Yes, I’m suggesting that if you work for free you might just have a leg up on your competition.

Just a few weeks ago I was sharing a story about how individuals that I worked with as the technology coordinator for a nonprofit used their volunteer time to gain new skills, expand upon existing skills and network with others. At the same time, the work that they were doing was helping the nonprofit organization. This was definitely a win-win situation for all involved.

So last night while browsing a handful of my favorite financial websites I came across this article on SmartMoney.com: Does Volunteering Give Job-Seekers an Edge? In the article, author Catey Hill describes Stephen Anfield’s journey from volunteer staffer to employed individual.

“Restless with his part-time public relations job, Stephen Anfield, 30, began volunteering in the AARP's Washington, D.C., office about a year ago. It wasn't easy: On top of his 30-hour work-week, Anfield put in another 10 to 15 hours writing blog posts, making and printing PowerPoint presentations, and other office tasks.“

After six months of volunteering, Anfield was hired thanks to a referral from one of the staff members at the AARP. While Anfield’s volunteer work may sound mundane, it put him in touch with the right people and in today’s tight job market it may be more whom you know than what you know that gets you in the door for that initial interview.

If you’re in the market for a job, or a better job than the one you have now, then perhaps volunteering is something you should try. I have had great experience with one of the sites mentioned in the SmartMoney.com article, VolunteerMatch.org. While I served as technology coordinator, most of our referrals came from the site.

One of the benefits of VolunteerMatch.org is that you can search for local or virtual opportunities. Virtual volunteering is perfect when there are no organizations in your area to work with or if you have an odd schedule and can’t work during typical business hours. While you may not be able to network as well as you could if you were working alongside other staff members, in today’s tech-savvy world you can still make solid connections in a virtual environment.

I’d love to hear from you, have you ever landed a job based in part on your work as a volunteer?

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