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By Martha C. White
January 5, 2015

A lot of Americans, especially young adults, still have trouble landing work in today’s economy. New research suggests one way to overcoming unemployment is something anybody can do: volunteer.

A forthcoming paper in the Journal of Career Assessment says unemployed young adults who volunteer find new jobs faster. Lead author Varda Konstam, professor emerita in the counseling and school psychology department at the University of Massachusetts Boston says the findings “do suggest significant association between volunteering and finding employment.”

In a survey of more than 200 unemployed young adults, Konstam finds that the ones who volunteer seem to have an edge on their counterparts. “Those who elected to volunteer, even for a minimal investment in time… were more likely to procure employment 6 months later,” she writes. This finding holds true across participants’ careers, skill sets and other demographic differences.

And you won’t even have to take that much time away from your job search to reap the benefits. Just a couple hours of volunteering a week is enough to make a difference, Konstam finds. Among study participants who didn’t volunteer, almost three-quarters were still looking for work six months later. But among those who volunteered — even those who did for just two hours a week or less — nearly half had landed jobs. While Konstam points out that her results don’t necessarily imply causation, that’s a big difference between the two groups.

There could be a few reasons behind this connection. Konstam points to the much-discussed “degree inflation” in higher education; today, just cranking out four years after high school doesn’t necessarily mean you’re equipped to compete in today’s labor market, even as more low-level jobs are demanding that applicants come with college already under their belts.

Since a degree alone doesn’t convey job worthiness anymore, Konstam’s findings suggest that employers are using volunteer work as a proxy for applicants’ ability to actually do work. Even if the volunteering is unrelated to a job applicant’s chosen field, it’s a good indication that they can show up on time, interact with other people and provide some value to the organization.

“Volunteering activities provide opportunities for emerging adults to master specific skillsets and to demonstrate proof of competency and value,” Konstam writes.

Another way volunteering might help your job search is by giving you a broader perspective on what kind of work you’re good at and enjoy doing. “It is possible that by increasing social contacts, volunteering promotes an open-minded approach toward different careers,” Konstam writes. “Volunteering may increase career-related information and skills in a variety of job-related areas in a way that broadens… career interests.”

 

 

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