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Volunteering Can Reveal Your Work Passion

By Maureen Crawford Hentz

To identify your work passion, it is absolutely critical to discover if you enjoy the work -- not just the topic.

Too often, I see people who fail to make the distinction between being interested in the field and wanting to perform the job. For example, the New England Aquarium receives many resumes from people who "have loved marine biology forever." Of course, all of us here at the New England Aquarium share that love, but interest and love does not ensure success in a job. To identify your work passion, it is absolutely critical to discover if you enjoy the work -- not just the topic.

I always give this advice in my workshops. Inevitably, a workshop participant will say that he or she is not able to give up everything to volunteer or intern -- that there is a family to feed or bills to pay. My response is always the same: If you want to change careers or find your work passion, you must first do the work. If you were planning to buy a new car, you would set aside money a little at a time to make that dream a reality. Similarly, you would spend time talking to other car owners, researching the cars, and test driving them. Isn't your life's work entitled to at least that much consideration and preplanning?

Here's what I recommend:

  1. Set aside time to volunteer for at least 100 hours. You can accomplish this much time during your vacation or every Saturday morning.
  2. Plan for your volunteering/internship. If you wish to go whole-hog and take a leave of absence from or quit your current job, you have to save up so that you don't bankrupt yourself! Many people that I work with wait tables on the side or save up money to take a long "career exploration vacation."
  3. Make the most of your experience. While you are volunteering, ask your supervisor to introduce you to at least two people in the field. Give your resume to your volunteer supervisor, and ask her what gaps she sees. Revise that resume, give it back to your supervisor, and ask her to pass it on to her colleagues.
  4. Put your volunteer experience in your resume's EXPERIENCE section -- not under Hobbies or Volunteer Experience. Separating this experience sends a message that you don't consider this experience valuable professionally.
  5. Volunteer in at least two roles: A position you "know" you'll love and one whose work you believe in, but whose position is a bit of a stretch for you. You may find that you hate the job you loved, and you loved the job you didn't know about. You may also want to submit your credentials to the volunteer coordinator of a local organization and ask him or her what he or she thinks would be a good fit for you. You might be surprised at what someone else sees in your resume.

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