by Mark Cummuta

Job Search: Four Ways to Stand Out in Today’s Market – Volunteering

May 18, 2010

Last in a 4-post series on standing out as THE candidate employers need. Mark Cummuta explains how volunteering landed him a job

There is perhaps nothing more satisfying than helping someone in need, especially when you’re unemployed.  Let’s face it, getting laid off coupled with the multiple rejections you receive while looking for a new job is disheartening at best and downright depressing at worst.  Volunteering is a wonderful and effective way to lift your spirits while unemployed.  The volunteer work I’ve done throughout my job search has certainly helped preserve my sanity and self-esteem during these many long months.  Efforts on behalf of others can help us manage our own emotions and re-energize us so that we can meet the never-ending challenges of a job search.

I’ve done volunteer work throughout my job search for a variety of reasons.  My work with JobAngels, the Pay-It-FORWARD networking group, Career Renewal, the College of DuPage Career Transition Center and the Technology Executives Network are all altruistic volunteer work: I do it with the express purpose of helping others with their job searches, with no ulterior motive and no expectation for personal gain.

I’ve also done volunteer work during my job search for “directed” reasons — in other words, with the hope that I’ll benefit professionally from the volunteer work, either by sharpening existing skills, gaining new skills, expanding my network or uncovering a lead that turns into a job offer.  Directed volunteering can be pro bono work you take on in your field for a non-profit, religious or community organization, alumni association or even a political campaign.  There have been times when I have specifically targeted organizations and their needs in order to maintain, improve and even gain new skills that would make me a more marketable candidate.  I’ve taken on controller/CFO, fund-raising and sales roles as a volunteer for several organizations so that I could learn, build and then showcase my skills in these fundamental, bottom-line areas.  The leadership and speaking roles I’ve taken on with organizations such as the CIO Forum, Technology Leaders Assoc (TLA), St. Louis Innovation Camp and the IT Executives Assoc of Chicago (ITEAC) are some examples of my directed volunteer work, since these organizations increase my exposure to senior executives.

Whether altruistic or directed, when you are volunteering keep this in mind: People talk.  If you are a hard worker with a great attitude that shows in everything you do (even when the going gets tough) and you demonstrate a passion for both the mission and the task at hand, you will get noticed and opportunities will come knocking! It worked for me.

As a job search mentor and trainer, I have been assisting people at seminars, networking events, at churches, and via LinkedIn and Twitter since mid-2007.  My efforts were noticed by Mark Stelzner, the Founder of the national non-profit JobAngels, who interviewed and “hired” me as their volunteer CIO.  He personally has introduced me to key networking contacts, including several in my dream industry, defense.

My job search mentoring efforts were also noticed by a former client of mine, who hired me again for a series of short paid social media and IT strategy projects.  Brian Blanchard, Founder of the St. Louis Innovation Camp, who I met when we were both interviewing for the same job, also noticed my volunteer work.  He asked me to help him start up, lead and speak at the three-day entrepreneurial “innovation camp” he founded.  All of these individuals have become my advocates and have introduced me to numerous hiring organizations.

Several of these have led to significant interviews (more on this point later).

Also keep in mind that at some point in your interviewing process, hiring managers, HR staff and recruiters will ask you the hard question, “What have you been doing since you left XYZ company?”  If your answer is just, “looking for a job,” then say your goodbyes right there and leave.  But if you can list a number of accomplishments from your volunteering efforts – “I coordinated the emergency IT disaster recovery and then NOC reconstruction efforts for non-profit ABC in Nashville after the floods, including gathering servers and networking equipment donations from executives in my network, allowing them to be back online to help the _____ in only 6 days” – you’ve not only demonstrated initiative, drive, goal and task delivery, and a willingness to roll your sleeves up, but you’ve also shown passion and a desire to DO something!

There are numerous organizations that try to help individuals find appropriate volunteer work to match to their skills and passions, including JobAngels,, and

Nearly all of the volunteers I have spoken to, including myself, have noticed how volunteering has helped us re-discover our self-esteem, confidence and dignity.  Volunteering helps us put our minds, hearts and hands to work again.  Volunteering makes us feel less helpless and a little more in control. 

And I can tell you, having our old confidence and a certain amount of self-esteem is absolutely critical in order to be successful in your job search.  Hiring managers, recruiters and HR personnel can easily tell when a candidate is desperate.  Our job as candidates, as the old commercial used to say, is to “Never let ‘em see you sweat!”

Across this series I’ve discussed four ways for you to stand out in today’s job search market – certifications, marketing your expertise, improving your resume and using SEO techniques in your resume, and volunteering.

I have used all of these techniques in my own job search – successfully

I say successfully because not only have I landed interviews, received offers, and gained several short-term paid contracts using these techniques, I just landed a fantastic full-time job that will utilize all my skills and career experience, as well as my passion, since it is in my dream industry – which I identified all the way back on Day 1 of my taking on this blog for!

That means I will be wrapping up my time as the author of’s CIO Job Search: A Real Life Chronicle blog, including my final post with a summary of my job search, some personal job search statistics that I have been collecting and some final closing thoughts.

As always, thank you very much for all of your comments, emails and input!!



Mark Cummuta

BLOG:  CIO Job Search: A Real Life Chronicle