Monday, August 31, 2009

Volunteering To Keep You Going

By Emily Jasper

Not everyone had the luxury of knowing at the age of 18 that you wanted to be a marketing professional and chose a business major in college. In fact, many people fall into marketing through analytics, operations, HR, and so forth. Throw in liberal arts majors with backgrounds as diverse as the people themselves, and the path to marketing has drastically changed. So if you want to progress, what do you do?

The answer I always hear is: Get a MBA.

Okay, sure, grad school. You get experience, knowledge, networking, and some excellent exposure over the X number of years it takes to finish. But there’s a problem: The Recession. This very real recession has made funding difficult (many companies have stopped tuition assistance), loans can be hard to come by, and admissions are more competitive since so many people have turned to these programs to get them out of their professional rut. And while the degree will eventually pay for itself, you have to make ends meet now. Taking on thousands in education debt when you’re taking on credit card debt to feed your family may not sit right with the family budget.

So what do you do?

Get the experience elsewhere until you are in a position to get the degree. Volunteering is the best thing you can do to get diverse practice in an area you are currently exploring. Plus, you get the warm fuzzy feeling of doing something philanthropic for a group. There are many places that need your assistance right now because they don’t have a budget to hire anyone either.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Obviously, any chapter of the American Marketing Association needs volunteers. These chapters need contributors on any scale, from being a blogger (like me) to President.
  • Your place of worship will take marketing volunteers to help drive membership. Did the AC break in your chapel? Well, membership money goes to getting that fixed. Marketing professionals can help with attracting new members, in addition to fundraising with current ones.
  • Local businesses can use any help you can provide. Especially if someone is just getting started, you can lend a hand with the website, doing some heavy-lifting at events, or even advising on growth strategy. You, in turn, can learn something about being an entrepreneur in a specific market.

The beauty of volunteering is that you can commit the time you have available and try something new. What if you want to drastically change your career path? There may not be anyone hiring right now, but that doesn’t mean you can’t volunteer. It’s like a trial period to see if you even like this new path.

All this volunteer work should go on your resume just as your job would. At the same time, you have the benefit of creating a portfolio (of print and online projects) to further yourself in your career.

Because at the end of the day, experience is experience and you can always get more.

Emily Jasper is a Marketing Manager for Technology Alliances with PDI Ninth House. In addition to marketing, Emily has sales and PR experience from previous roles. She currently writes a blog, "From the Gen Y Perspective," and can be followed on Twitter at

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Ruth Wikoff-Jones said...

Emily, Great post! I've used this method to keep my skills fresh, see what the competition is doing (by quietly watching what other companies do through their employees), network and - several times - get a new job.

By volunteering, even for for-profit companies, you get to see what the culture is like and show off your skills while picking up new ones. I had one organization that I volunteered for over several years. When a much coveted role opened up, I was contacted by three seperate employees (including the hiring manager) because they new of my work and interest.

And more experienced job seekers should not assume that this is a technique just for college grads. It works at any stage in your career!

Emily Jasper said...

@Ruth, thanks so much for the comment. I love your point about this method being great for any stage in your career. Not all programs may have clear cut paths, and exploration through volunteering might be the way to go.

And so great to hear how an opportunity worked for you!

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