Joining the social-impact sector can be an exciting and rewarding career opportunity. One way to explore your options is by volunteering or taking on part-time opportunities. Trying out a sector is not a requirement to start the job search, but it can help to build your confidence, skills, and a network to ease the sector switch.
Benefits of volunteer or part-time opportunities
Evaluate personal fit and interest
Making a sector switch can feel daunting, and transitioning to any new job can be unpredictable. With the stability offered by a full-time "for now" job, an objective evaluation of whether an opportunity is a good fit is more feasible.
If you have a data analysis job and want to transition to a community organizer role, for example, volunteering at a community center or canvassing for a local political candidate can offer valuable experience. With less pressure (and less time commitment), you can more objectively ask yourself whether this type of work and subject matter is a good fit.
Gain skills and experience
Working part time or volunteering can provide skills and experience that can help in an interview and in a new job.
Even if the skills are not directly applicable to your ideal role, hiring managers will be drawn to your involvement in the sector. For instance, if you are interested in working at a climate policy organization and want experience that speaks to your interest in climate science, consider volunteering for a local composting group or grassroots political group. Many smaller organizations have a DIY attitude and welcome new initiatives. You could even start a climate research and education initiative for social media or for community education presentations.
Build a professional network
Working closely with others on a project or initiative can help organically grow new relationships with those already in the sector. By committing your time and proactively communicating your desire for a full-time role, your co-workers can connect you with new opportunities. Set up informational interviews to express your interest and learn more about different careers and roles.
Finding part-time and volunteer opportunities
Get plugged into organizations’ communication channels
Sign up for organizations’ newsletters and follow them on social media. Explore Idealist’s job listings for inspiration. Look for hyperlocal organizations like community gardens, community fridges, mutual aid groups, and county-level organizations and committees.
Directly contact organizations or leaders
If volunteer or part-time opportunities are not readily posted or available, send the organization an email, make a call, or message them on social media to ask about opportunities.
Use resources like Taproot Foundation, your local library, or community centers to gain direct access to volunteer opportunities. These groups connect skilled volunteers with organizations in need and have a variety of pro bono opportunities to assist with community problems that need immediate attention.
Smaller organizations may give you more responsibility for important initiatives, so be clear about your expectations, availability, and commitment. If possible, try to assign yourself to tasks with a clear start and end date. Otherwise, specify the amount of time you can commit and on which days.
Trying out different sectors and industries through volunteering, part-time roles, or internships can give you more confidence as you make a sector switch. Switching sectors can be a challenging decision with many considerations, and direct experience in the role can help clarify whether a switch is right for you.
As you explore roles and sectors, make sure to keep track of new job postings and opportunities with email alerts from Idealist’s job board. Subscribe to the career advice blog to learn more about sector switches.
Minah Kim is a writer based in Brooklyn. She is a labor and community organizer with experience in the healthcare and professional services sectors.