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If your idea of searching for a new job is posting your résumé on Monster.com and then plopping down on the couch to watch The View, the odds of finding your perfect career are pretty slim. This technique isn’t going to get you anywhere, and it certainly isn’t going to land you an interview with the company of your dreams.

If you already happen to have a job but have your sights set on something more community-oriented than selling steaks out of the back of a truck, you need to volunteer. If you’re not doing anything other than looking for the TV remote and would like to earn a paycheck doing something you can be proud to tell your grandma about, then you really need to step it up and volunteer.

That’s right – work for free for the time being and perhaps, like many other volunteers at nonprofits, you can turn your unpaid gig into a job that will eventually pay the bills.

Lisa Rhone of Sacramento graduated at the top of her class at UCSD, but for three years after graduating she found herself waiting tables. She enjoyed the job for a time, but the screaming chefs and picky customers got on her nerves.

“I have a degree and I was asking customers if they want a doggy bag,” she said. “I needed the money, but I was slowly going insane.”

Rhone’s relationship suffered, she gained weight, and she was depressed. Finally a friend from school suggested an internship. After calling other working friends for recommendations and researching the different non-profits that fit her needs, Rhone volunteered at a women’s shelter to make sure that public service was right for her. Then she applied to Public Allies, a public-service organization that boasts Michelle Obama as a former associate.

Finding a nonprofit job is a little different than snagging a job in an office with a weekly paycheck. A good résumé is still crucial, but other, less-obvious skills are also required.

One important requirement is passion for the group’s mission, or at least for volunteer work in general. If elderly folks or children make you nervous, check out opportunities in the art world or try to work with animals. Look for networking opportunities within the organization. Treat your volunteer job as an actual job. Show up on time, finish your tasks and become part of the team. Once you’ve proven yourself to be a reliable volunteer, ask for tougher assignments. If you’re looking to jump on board with the organization, make sure to communicate your goals to your supervisor.

Rhone found that Public Allies – a leadership program bettering communities – paid a small wage, supplied health insurance, and upon completion of a grueling 10-month course, offered scholarship money towards a master’s program.

According to their website, “Since 1992, almost 2,800 Allies have completed the program with over 90% having met or exceeded their nonprofit placement’s performance goals and over 80% continuing careers in nonprofit and public service.”

“Almost everyone I’ve spoken to has been accepted into a master’s program after completing the program with Public Allies,” said Rhone, who now helps lower income families in the Bay Area grow their own vegetables and market them at farmers’ markets. “And most people in the program are hired by the organization they volunteer with, which is my ultimate goal.”

It’s not just this one organization that hires within; many nonprofits hire from the ranks of their volunteers. They have access to online staff job postings, and they know the hiring managers, putting them in a better position than someone who posts their résumé on Monster.com.

“I love volunteering and I love knowing that I’m giving back every day that I go to work,” Rhone says. “Waiting tables is a good job, but it’s not what I went to college to do. Every morning when I wake up, I know I’m going to help someone and that makes me feel good about my job and good about myself.”

To find the right organization for your volunteering needs, check out sites such as:

Public Allies – www.publicallies.org

Idealist – www.idealist.org

VolunteerMatch – www.volunteermatch.org

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