How to get great job recommendations via volunteering

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The phone rang, even though Diane did not recognize the phone number, she answered it anyway. The man introduced himself as Chris, HR coordinator from Volt – a local manufacturing company. He proceeded to ask if Masha M. served as a volunteer at Meals on Wheels.

Diane breathed a sigh of relief: “Ohh, Masha. Yes, she volunteers here for almost six months now. She is awesome! Masha makes everyone smile. We like her because she always shows up on time. I also can count on her for all last-minute assignments during our fundraising events”.

The conversation above is a real-life scenario when a non-profit volunteer coordinator provides a great job recommendation on behalf of a volunteer.

Without Masha`s knowledge, after Chris chatted with Diane, Masha`a application was moved from a top 10 to a top 3 candidates for the job opening.

Question is – How do you get an excellent job reference like Masha? How do you get someone to vouch for your skills, character and work ethic? The answer is – you must become the best volunteer!

How to become the Best Volunteer

Define your experience

Pick a cause you care about. One of the most important decisions you will make is to pick the right cause you want to contribute to. So, take some time and find a cause you really care about.

For example, kids, animals, economic development, poverty, homelessness or elderly. How do you know you picked the right one? Talking about the cause should evoke emotions in your core. If you talk about babies and you feel like you need a napkin, excellent! You found your cause.

Ask for a role that matches your goals. The second step is to find the right fit in terms of your role. The volunteering role you pick will have a big impact on the type of tasks you will be learning.

For example, let`s say you want to a job as a receptionist at the front desk at the medical office. As a volunteer you need a role that will allow you to learn and practice specific skills, such as customer service, data entry, phone skills, and MS Office knowledge.

Don`t over-commit. This challenge is something I struggle with, personally. It happens to me more frequently then I care to admit – it is over-committing. Know when to say “No”. In fact, commit to a very few hours weekly to start with and add more hours if you like what you do and it brings you closer to your goals. It is better to start small and build on it, versus promising loads of hours and not be able to perform as promised.

Treat volunteering like a real job

Be on time and be dependable. Remember, you have a specific goal in mind and it is very important that you treat volunteering assignment as an actual job. So, if your volunteering assignment starts at 12:00, arrive at 11:45, to give yourself extra time. Promptness is a great quality.

If for some reason, you can not show up, call or better yet, email in advance and ask for a new date and time. Keep in mind, canceling often will earn you a bad reputation. We all love people who respect us and our time.

Dress up and be positive. Most of eastern Europeans, naturally, dress up better than American folks and people will notice that you look nice. Use this advantage to form a good first impression about yourself.

Your volunteer colleagues also will be grateful if you maintain a positive and upbeat attitude. You will not always will feel like smiling, but do your best to stay positive and not complain about your challenges.

Deliver quality work. Most non-profits will be excited to see your enthusiasm. If you were assigned a task, take the time and complete it well. If you struggle, ask questions. Don`t give up. Remember, volunteering is a stepping stone to a well-compensated job. Build your reputation one quality project at the time.

Build Relationships

Communicate your goals early. One of the things I will encourage you to do before you even start is to get clear about why you want to volunteer and what you are trying to accomplish. The more defined your goals are the better.

For example, when I volunteered during my Physical Therapy Internship in the hospital I had three main goals in mind: quickly learn medical terminology, gather job market information (# of jobs, salary, and education requirements), and of course to learn more about Physical Therapist day-to-day tasks.

Once you know what you want, don`t be shy to share your goals with others. Your colleagues most likely will be happy to help you out.

Connect professionally. When the opportunity presents itself feel free to introduce yourself to other volunteers and employees. Ask questions, listen attentively and be curious about their experience.

After you connected with someone, ask them for their business card. This will help you to remember their name, next time you will see them. On the back of the card make a few notes to remember something personal about them. The notes are great conversation starters, like “2 kids”, “Ph.D. student”, or any other detail. Over time, even if you meet one new person a day, you will connect with dozens of people and form a great network.

Be a team player. Most employers look for employees and volunteers who are able to play well with others. In fact, one of the top ten skills employers seek in the new hires is collaboration. So, when the opportunity presents itself, become a part of the team and show how you can learn from and offer support to others.


The reality is, before Masha started volunteering, she looked for a job for many months, but nobody wanted to hire her since she had poor English, no U.S. work experience and no job references.

After Masha was moved to a top three candidates, she was called for a face to face interview and absolutely rocked it! Within a few weeks, Masha received a phone call from Volt, extending an offer for a Front Desk Receptionist at $17 per hour.

Masha was ecstatic, finally, after almost six months of job search, she had a real job! Masha`s effort of becoming the best volunteer paid off and she was able to get the job she wanted.


By the way: we recently added a free service for all of our readers: Ask Author Your Career Question. 

Please feel free to as any Career Related question you would like, the most popular questions will be answered by a new blog post.

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