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7 Strategies for Growth Hacking your Career (by Offering to Work for Free!)

Now more than ever, competition for entry-level positions is fierce. Here are some strategies to help you get your foot in the door.

2021 is certainly an interesting time to consider entering the workforce. The state of work as we know it is in flux, with more people Zooming in to conference calls from home than actually clocking in at the office. Some industries are struggling, while others are unexpectedly thriving. Regardless of what industry you work in, this disruption is opening up new opportunities for those just starting their career (or pivoting into a new one).

However, all of the opportunity and disruption in the world can’t quite overcome the age-old hurdle that so many young professionals come up against; experience. We are all familiar with the tired and depressing reality that “entry level” positions frequently ask for years of the stuff. We scratch our heads and wonder “does the person posting this job know what the words “entry level” mean? How can we be expected to get started if experience is required before you even take your first step?

My suggestion; look for volunteer opportunities.

Please give me a moment to explain! I understand that asking students and young professionals to work for free is problematic. I would never suggest that someone go out and do something for free that they can (and should) be paid for. Instead, I suggest that you go out and volunteer for a role that you CAN’T get paid for. At least, not yet.

Volunteerism (that is, seeking out opportunities to volunteer at an organization) has the potential to deliver more responsibility, experience, and opportunity than would otherwise be available to most people who lack experience in a given industry or role. While volunteerism won’t change the skewed requirements that many companies put in their job listings, it can help you get over that initial experience hump, and potentially network your way well past entry level roles.

There are a host of benefits to being a volunteer; particularly a long-term volunteer. Since you are not an employee, you are given a significant amount of control over the work that you do and don’t do. It also opens up positions and opportunities that would require far more experience were they paid positions. By using a bit of strategy in your approach to volunteerism, you can catapult your experience from entry-level to leadership in a relatively short amount of time.

The Strategies

Strategy #1: Approach Volunteering as an opportunity to learn, not an unpaid job

Learning shouldn’t stop after you leave the classroom to enter the workforce. In fact, the most important lessons many of us learn occur on-the-job. Volunteer roles provide the opportunity to start learning these lessons in a live environment. If you go into a volunteer position with the mindset that you will use it as a learning experience rather than an unpaid job, you’ll quickly fill notebooks with valuable, real world knowledge and experience that can propel you into a successful career.

Strategy #2: Volunteer With Intention.

Each volunteer opportunity should be a stepping stone to a larger goal. You shouldn’t say yes to every volunteer opportunity that comes your way. Consider what your own goals are, first. For example, if you are hoping to build a career in broadcasting, then volunteering to help with graphic design may not be the right position for you. Strive to make every one of your volunteer positions build toward the specific career that you want. Doing so will help to focus your efforts and get you into your dream job faster.

Strategy #3: Know What You’re Looking For

Experience is the most important element of your resume when it comes to job applications. Every company is looking for a unicorn. That is, a job applicant that knows everything they need to know, and has already done everything that the company needs them to do. While virtually zero applicants will check every box listed on a job description, the more boxes you tick the more likely you will be brought in for an interview. Start by looking at applications for your dream job and take notes on what most of those applications are looking for. Understanding what the tick boxes are will help you seek out volunteer opportunities that will give you the experience necessary to tick that box.

Strategy #4: Ask for More Responsibility

Most volunteer roles involve helping the full-time team with a single task. However, there are plenty of opportunities to take on more responsibility as a volunteer. The more responsibility you hold, the more you will learn, and the more boxes you’ll be able to tick on future job applications. While in your volunteer role, pay attention to the needs of the team and see if there are any opportunities that you’d like to try and tackle. Before long you’ll be an indispensable part of the team and may be able to leverage your way into a full-time role at the organization you are volunteering at.

Strategy #5: Volunteer Often

When it comes to experience, more is always better. Try and always be volunteering at an organization. It will build a consistent history for your resume, as well as simply providing more opportunities to learn and grow as professional.

Strategy #6: Build Relationships While Volunteering

Volunteer opportunities can do much more than give you a chance to learn on-the-job. They can connect you with a broad network of industry professionals, and networking as a volunteer is a fantastic opportunity to introduce yourself to people who may one day be interviewing you. Having those direct connections will lead to many more opportunities. So make the effort to introduce yourself to everyone on your team when volunteering. You never know who might recommend you for a position later on down the line.

Strategy #7: Be Patient

Experience doesn’t accrue over night, so plan your volunteerism for the long-term. It may take months, or even a year or two before you will begin to reap the benefits of volunteering. However, those skills and connections that you’ve made will really begin to take off once you have built a significant history as a volunteer. They may start slowly at first, with an opportunity sent your way every so often, but it won’t be long before you become a trusted professional in whichever industry you choose.

Launching a career is a long and arduous road. It takes many of us years to really find our career paths. Hopefully these strategies will be helpful to you on your own path. So go look for an opportunity to volunteer in your desired industry. It may very well be your chance to start down the path of a new career!


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