I was 28 years old and making decent money in a bookkeeping job with lots of possibilities for promotion. Yet what I really wanted was to become a writer. No matter how much I tried to break out of the path I had carved for myself, every interviewer took one look at my extensive bookkeeping background and couldn't see past it. I had the writing ability but not the experience. I needed to find a way to show potential employers that there was a capable writer sitting before them. My solution? Volunteering.
My first stop was my local GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender) newspaper. It was a nonprofit operated almost entirely by volunteers. When I asked the folks there if I could write for them, they were happy to have me. Before I knew it, I had my first published byline. Because I had the talent and, now, some samples of my published work, I eventually caught the attention of people who were willing to pay me to write.
Volunteering is a terrific way to expand your skill set. If you are comfortable revealing your orientation, you can also help out the GLBT community while building those skills. Take a look at your local GLBT publication's resource section and you'll find a long list of nonprofit organizations eager for help with areas such as:
- Grant writing.
- Database management.
- Web site development.
- Newsletter layout.
- Event planning.
- Volunteer management.
If you already possess the skills, you'll be a treasured gift to some underfunded nonprofit. But even if you just want to learn a new skill, you'll probably find someone more than willing to mentor you as a volunteer and turn you into an expert in your own right. You may not be able to start in your ideal position, but if you feel the opportunity to learn is there and you support the work the organization is doing, then it will be worth putting in some extra time.
What's the First Step?
Think about what you'd really like to be doing that isn't reflected in your resume. Now think about the organizations in your community that could use that skill or teach you more about it while you're helping them. AIDS service organizations are a good example, because they need volunteers with a wide variety of skills, including office work, peer counseling and educational outreach.
Unfamiliar with the agencies in your area? Start at GayData.com to find an GLBT paper near you. Check the community resource listings and classified ads to find an organization that may need you.
Remember: Your skills and experience are valuable to a future employer, no matter how or where you learned them or how much or little someone else paid you to gain them.