A conversation with the woman in the mirror



I have had the same career for the past 15 years. While it is something that I enjoy most days, I feel as though something is missing. Can you give me some advice on how I can enhance my skills and feel a sense of fulfilment again?

Looking for a Change

Dear Looking for a Change,

If your current job does not provide the advancement or challenge it once did, it is common to feel a need for a change. It's an understandable concern if you're unsure of the best career trajectory, particularly with the current local and global trends of department restructures and organisation downsizes. One immediate option is to volunteer your time to an event or cause through which you could learn new skills.

Three out of four HR executives and hiring managers look favourably on candidates who have “kept busy” during their job search and believe volunteering gives an edge, labelling them a more desirable candidate. Skilled volunteering experience increases marketability as it is seriously regarded when hiring decisions are being made. Further, outlined by Deloitte's Annual Impact Survey (see chart), skill-based volunteering positively impacts the perception of the candidate within the interview. With over ten years of volunteering in different capacities, the following three points have been the most impactful within my career search.

Learn new skills

Volunteering is a two-way street. However, many people say they simply do not have time to volunteer. Studies show that the motivation to make time comes from the drive to work towards something you believe in. If you really enjoy doing research on women's issues, social media engagement or working with the youth, then work with groups that need help in these areas. Another way to select a cause would be to find one that involves a skillset you may want to improve upon. Finance or fundraising are two key areas that provide inside knowledge on how a business is run by the management of income and expenditure. Reading and understanding financials may be difficult but with hands on experience, the difficultly can be minimised. Skill based volunteering allows the opportunity to gain leadership experience within a new arena.

For instance, after volunteering for a few months, a co-worker, “Denise”, had gained experience training new volunteers which quickly developed her team work skills into team leading. Whereas Denise did not have this opportunity as an administrative assistant in her present job, she could easily add this to her resume with proven examples of success. Volunteering your skills helps you develop new skills.

Build a network

In 2019, searching for a job is just a click away; therefore, why do you need to build a network? While having a social media network creates a connection, so too does a professional network. Building a network of like-minded individuals can act as a guide in the right direction by providing opportunities. Additionally, many of the women that I have met while volunteering with the Cancer Society, AFETT and NYC Probation provided excellent career advice, coaching and information on upcoming workshops or job vacancies and I was able to make some life-long friends.

One of the most impactful volunteer commitments that changed my life, was mentoring for the AFETT Reach mentorship programme at Belmont Secondary School in 2010. While enjoying my sessions with the girls every Saturday, I met my future career and life coach, Georgina Terry, who assisted me with building a workable plan. We met once a month for a year and set SMART objectives which covered career advancement, education and community work. Fast forward nine years later and I have accomplished all my set targets and more.

Mind the gap

At some point in your career, you may experience a period without a full-time paid job, having either voluntarily or involuntarily exited. Recruiters do not expect long periods of inactivity on a CV and in an interview, they expect a logical explanation for this gap with sufficient indication of how well time was spent. Adding suitable hobbies to the resume is an archaic method and is not required. Time is an opportunity to show how you have improved your skills. I volunteered at three different types of programmes for a year, which included mentoring at a public school and for EOTO World, an online based not-for profit that builds the skills of activists, which allowed me to discuss aspects of experience gained during my job search within the interview process. Just like gaining a degree, volunteering is an investment and the skills learnt cannot be taken away. Volunteers have higher odds of landing a job after being laid off, and in addition to making an impact within your community, you are perceived to have a noble character.

Bringing it all together

Shifting your mindset to make volunteering a part of your mantra can work where ever you live or at any career level, from entry level to executive. Learning and character building should be continuous. As the project manager volunteer for the press and communications director, I gained knowledge for eight months but also gained a mentor. I received her advice regarding switching industries, asking for the best salary and interview tips for a senior position, which proved to be incomparable.

Building capacity should be an ongoing process and surrounding yourself with people and organisations that are in alignment with your goals will always be beneficial. The advice and support received from my volunteer peers over the last five years assisted with my next career choice as senior director of Fulfilment and Logistics for a non-sectarian organisation that provides 1.8 million meals annually to the severely ill in the city of New York. This proves that it is possible to find an interconnection of experience gained from both for profit and non-profit volunteering to land the job, which I so graciously accepted. The benefits of volunteering are vast and can range from learning a new skill to making new friends, for which I am eternally grateful.

Embrace the change.


AFETT is a not-for-profit organisation formed in 2002 with the goal of bringing together professional women and engaging in networking opportunities, professional training and business ideas. Ask AFETT is a column meant to address issues and concerns of professionals seeking advice to assist in progressing in their careers. Today's response was written by Tricia Leid, a past president and a financial member of AFETT. Learn more about AFETT at www.afett.com, search for AFETT Events on Facebook, follow us @AFETTEXECS on Twitter or contact us at 343-2160. Email us your career-related questions at admin.afett@gmail.com.

The views and opinions expressed are those of the authors, meant strictly as advice and guidance, based upon their experience and expertise. In no way are they meant to be legally binding upon AFETT and or its members, servants nor agents.


"A conversation with the woman in the mirror"

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