The article below appeared in the Toronto Star on January 18th, 2011. It was written by Tracy Hanes and when she called me, she asked me about “Changing Priorities”. I immediately thought of how volunteering has become one of the most important pieces of the puzzle when it comes to finding that perfect career.
Tolu and I have been together as Mentor and Protegee, and as friends for the past 3 years. I’m proud of her accomplishments and I know that without the relationship we built, the doors to her perfect career would not have opened.
I encourage everyone to consider volunteering and to use a systematic process to determine where the best fit may be.
Thanks Tracy for the great article! Thanks Tolu and Lee Koren for the agreeing to share your insight and experience with Tracy.
Thanks to all of the people who participated in the Leads, Needs and Good Deeds event! I’m going to host another one soon!
Volunteer Work Can Open Career Doors
Tracy Hanes Special to the Star
”When you learn it’s about what you can do for others, they return the good deed.” Tolulope Olutunfese, food scientist and recent immigrant
“People forgot how good it feels to give back. They are so used to dipping into their pockets.” Donna Messer, Networking Expert.
When Tolulope Olutunfese, her husband and young daughter arrived in Burlington from Nigeria in October 2007, she was optimistic about a better life. But even though she held a bachelor’s degree in food science and had work experience in that field, her job search proved futile.
“It was tough to find work and it was overwhelming,” she recalls.
Through the Mentoring Partnership, a program of the Toronto Immigrant Employment Council delivered by Sheridan College, she was assigned a mentor. She was paired with Donna Messer, a well-known networking expert and president of Connect Us Canada, an Oakville-based company.
Messer is on the board of the Women in Food Industry Management Association (WFIM) and arranged for Olutunfese to volunteer there. About the same time, Olutunfese accepted a job “out of desperation” working in the refrigerated area of a meat processing company. The working environment wasn’t ideal for her and she wasn’t using her full knowledge and skills.
“I’d sent out my resume to a lot of places but I didn’t understand the barriers,” she says. “I was qualified but had no Canadian work experience. When I met Donna, she introduced me to people in the field that I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to meet otherwise.”
Messer taught her to change her priorities: instead of focusing on her own needs and what others could do for her, Messer urged her to see what she could do for others.
“When you learn it’s about what you can do for others, they return the good deed. In volunteering with WIFM, I got to know people well, they got to know me and became willing to provide references,” she says. “No matter where you are from or from what culture, you really do have some things in common.”
Her confidence soared as she realized she had something to offer.
Through her new contacts, Olutunfese landed a job working in research and product development for Fruition, a company that supplies fruit fillings to Tim Hortons and other companies.
She is still involved with WIFM (she recently wrote an article on food allergies for members) and says volunteering opened doors that wouldn’t have otherwise. “Volunteering gives an opportunity for people to know about you and then they become willing to go out on a limb for you.”
The key to success for individuals, companies and organizations is to shift their thinking from “me” to “we” says Messer.
She was invited to speak to a law firm in Toronto that raises $800,000 per year for the United Way about how to make their canvassing more successful. Instead of leaving a pledge form on people’s desks, Messer suggested canvassers get to know a bit about their intended donors.
“For instance, in one cubicle was a photo of a girl and a dog. I’d leave a dog biscuit with the form,” she says. “Another cubicle had a photo of a girl in a ballet costume. I found out that another employee could get tickets to the ballet and suggested they give them to that person. Making people feel important doesn’t cost anything.”
She is a board member of United Way of Oakville, which is facing fundraising challenges, like many non-profit organizations these days.
Messer organized a Leads, Needs and Good Deeds networking workshop that brought together 150 of her contacts (including individuals and representatives from businesses and associations) to exchange leads, offer help to others and share good deeds.
Attendees brought items or services to raffle and, in return, made several new connections. All proceeds went to United Way of Oakville.
“The most important thing is that people forgot how good it feels to give back. They are so used to dipping into their pockets,” says Messer. “People want it to come from within, not just from their pocketbooks.”
Lee Koren, who attended the event, met Messer after she was downsized from her Toronto recruiting job.
“I had networks of people I knew and businesses I worked with, but Donna really opened my eyes about networking. Networking’s not just the people you know, but people you don’t know. It’s not ‘what can you do for me’, but ‘what can I do for you’.”
Koren started volunteering her time to help people in transition, using her knowledge about what hiring managers are usually looking for.
At the same time, she started her own recruiting company, Selection Strategy, and has started writing blogs for others (she also works part-time as a recruiter for Ian Martin Recruitment Services).
“I am not only helping so many people, I am helping myself as well,” Koren says. “I keep networking and making connections. It takes years of connections to build your business.”
Messer says transitions between jobs can be scary but they also offer huge opportunities to learn new things and get involved. “It’s important to think laterally, and always think in terms of we, not me.
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