What About Volunteer Experience?

Nancy Anderson
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The time you spend giving back to your community can reap new benefits once you start a job search. Volunteer experience helps to beef up your resume and paint you in a positive light while giving recruiters a preview of your skills and personality. Whether paid or unpaid, a strong work history builds your credibility. Highlight what you accomplished in each volunteer role to win over employers and stand out from the competition.

Showcase the Right Volunteer Experience

Seek out volunteer positions that challenge you to develop professional and soft skills that relate to your target career. Websites such as Idealist and VolunteerMatch are useful for finding volunteer opportunities that match your interests and qualifications.

As you gain volunteer experience, come up with a compelling value statement by writing down the major tasks you handled, the objective behind each task, the skills required and the impact of your work. For example, fundraising roles often require you to use communication, sales and project management skills to meet funding goals. Volunteering on a committee shows your ability to lead, make decisions and delegate, helping to sustain and grow an organization. Creating blogs and social media posts for a nonprofit hones your marketing, writing and content planning skills while helping the organization gain a bigger audience.

Where to List Volunteer Experience

Use volunteer experience to show recruiters you know how to handle responsibility and deliver results for people who depend on you. Volunteer work comes second to traditional jobs and internships in most cases, and it should only be the focus of your resume when your work history is short, sporadic or unrelated to your target job.

Are you an established professional with a few jobs under your belt? Feel free to list volunteer experience as part of your general work history. Write the description just as you would write it for a paid job, and briefly explain what the organization does and how you contributed in your role. To avoid any confusion, always make it clear when you performed a job as a volunteer. Take a look at this example.

Literacy Crusaders (Volunteer) — Cityville, WA (2014 - 2018)
Adult literacy program dedicated to helping people rebuild their lives through education

Literacy Tutor (Jan. 2014 - Jan. 2018), Recruitment Coordinator ( Nov. 2016 - Jan. 2018)
> Provided 12 months of reading, writing and ESL support for 10 Crusader program graduates
> Led weekly reading club to help students improve comprehension and conversational skills
> Created a social media campaign that recruited 42 long-term literacy tutors in 6 months

You can use the same method to fill in employment gaps or manage a career change. The most important thing is to showcase skills and duties that closely relate to the job you're pursuing. If you're a recent graduate, consider listing leadership and volunteer experience after your work history and education. Most employers don't expect you to have an illustrious career straight out of college, and they're more likely to focus on your professional training, internships and soft skills.

Leverage volunteer experience to strengthen your candidacy and shorten your job search. Committing your personal time to a cause is rewarding and shows employers you have passion and initiative. Has volunteering ever helped you transition to a great job? Share your experiences.

Photo courtesy of US Department of Education at Flickr.com


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  • Printes W.
    Printes W.

    I am a youth leader at my church and a volunteer firefighter for over 20 years

  • Cheri E.
    Cheri E.

    A lot of Volunteer experience

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