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Volunteers discover another path in job hunt

When Claudia Deane, a research director at a Boston executive search firm, was laid off last year, she decided the best way to improve her odds of landing a new job was by working for free.

Deane wanted a position in records management but lacked the experience to get hired in a market flooded with out-of-work records managers. She started doing volunteer record keeping for the Metropolitan Boston Housing Partnership, a nonprofit agency that helps low-income families find affordable housing.

At a time when companies aren't likely to consider inexperienced applicants, more professionals are seeking ways to beef up their resumes by volunteering for work at nonprofit agencies. Many of them are unemployed, or worried about job security. Some have well-polished skills to offer, while others, like Deane, see volunteering as an opportunity to steer their career in a new direction.

"Being able to say I worked on records management projects for a large housing agency is a major plus," she said. "I'm hoping an organization will see my resume and say, "She already knows how to do this; let's hire her right now."

Deane's goal is to parlay her stint at the housing agency into a paying position as an archivist or records manager after she finishes graduate studies at Simmons College.

Andrew Brown, president of Career Ventures Counseling Services Inc., a Boston career management firm, said skill-based volunteerism lets job seekers stand out.

"The more relevant work experience you can put on a resume the better, even if it's from a volunteer position." Brown said. "In this kind of slow job market, you want to do whatever you can to get experience."

But Brown said that adding random charity work to a resume isn't likely to bring job offers.

"You want to be as precise and focused as possible," he said. "If you're looking for work in finance, try to volunteer in a capacity that will let you use those types of skills."

That's what Brian Glazer tried to do - sort of.

Glazer worked as a stock trader at Fidelity Investments for just under a decade before he was laid off last year. Always good with numbers, he has spent the past year as a volunteer teaching assistant in a fifth-grade math class at the Harvard-Kent Elementary School in Charlestown.

"People have always said I would be a good teacher," he said. " I figured this might be a good way to marry my business background with the math they teach kids."

While Glazer is apprehensive about switching careers, because of the time and money it would cost to go back to school to earn his teacher certification, he is seriously considering it.

"Teaching would be far more fulfilling for me than finance," he said.

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