When you’re applying for a new job, you have many decisions to make regarding what to include on your resume. Obviously, you need to highlight educational and previous work experience, but what about volunteer experience? Should you include your volunteer experience on your resume – and if so, which experiences should you highlight?
Why Including Volunteer Experience on Your Resume Is a Good Idea
Here’s the bottom line: adding volunteer work to your resume can help you stand out above other candidates for a given job. That’s because 82% of hiring managers like to pick resumes that include volunteer experience.
Including volunteer experience on your resume can help detail skills useful to the available position. It also shows that you’re a civic-minded individual, which is a good thing. Volunteer skills can also help fill in any gaps in your resume.
Who should include volunteer work in their resumes? The short answer is, everyone, if you have it. Including volunteer experiences is especially useful if:
- You’re a recent graduate with little previous work experience. Volunteer work will fill in the gaps in demonstrating your skills.
- You have limited professional experience, especially in this given industry. Again, volunteer work takes the place of relevant job experience.
- You’ve been away from the workplace for a significant period of time. This especially applies to parents who’ve taken time off to raise small children or those who’ve stayed at home to care for sick family members.
- You’ve been unemployed for a lengthy period of time. Listing volunteer work shows that you’ve been busy, even in a down economy.
- You’re switching careers and your prior job experience doesn’t adequately demonstrate skills necessary for the new position. Your volunteer experiences can show that you have skills valued by the new industry.
Emphasizing volunteer work on your resume is particularly important if it is directly related to the job to which you’re applying. For example, if you’ve volunteered at an animal shelter and are applying for a job at a veterinarian’s office, including that volunteer work is a huge plus. It shows you have experience with – and interest – in animals, which makes you a strong candidate for the job.
Volunteer work also shows your commitment to the community, and to helping others. This should align with most employers’ values and show that you’re a caring and trustworthy individual. Companies are looking for more people with that kind of character.
When Not to Include Volunteer Experience on Your Resume
You don’t necessarily have to list all your volunteer experiences on your resume. There are some types of volunteer work that won’t help you get a job with some employers.
First, if a particular volunteer situation has absolutely no bearing on the available job, think twice about including it. You want to highlight transferable skills, and if the skills aren’t transferable, they won’t help you much. Use the space for something more relevant.
Second, you want to avoid listing volunteer experiences that might be considered polarizing. For example, volunteering for a political campaign might earn you points with an employer who voted for that candidate or party, but get the door slammed in your face if the employer supported the opposition. Similarly, while including general church volunteer work on your resume is probably a good idea, work for more controversial religious organizations could prove detrimental – especially if your potential employer is opposed to the positions of that group.
Finally, don’t put volunteer work on your resume if it occurred more than ten years ago. Including older or less relevant volunteer experiences can look like filler and cause hiring managers to devalue the rest of your resume.
The Most Impressive Volunteer Work for Your Resume
What’s the best volunteer work to include on your resume? Let’s look at some of the best types of volunteer ideas for your resume.
First and foremost are those volunteer experiences that are directly related to the position for which you’re applying. That could mean volunteer work in a related industry or work that involves related skills.
For example, volunteer work at a blood bank or free clinic would be of interest to employers in the health care industry. Volunteer work designing brochures or websites would be of interest to any firm hiring for marketing positions.
Employers respect people with passion. If you volunteer for a cause that you are passionate about, that probably means you’ll be passionate about your new job, too.
Volunteer work that includes detailed training in a particular skill will catch the attention of hiring managers. Employers are looking for hires that they don’t have to train on the job; if you got that training through volunteer work, all the better. For example, if you volunteered for a nonprofit organization that provided leadership training, that will give you distinct advantage over other job applicants without that type of prior training.
Employers appreciate applicants who show a commitment to their work. Volunteering a few hours a week is great, but devoting the commitment commensurate with a 40 hour per-week position demonstrates that you are the kind of dedicated worker most employers are looking for.
How to Include Volunteer Experience on Your Resume
There are two places you can add volunteer experience to your resume.
First, if it’s work that includes skills relevant to the job you’re seeking, you can include your volunteer experiences in the Job Experience section, but rename the section simply Experience. This is a particularly good approach if your resume is otherwise lacking in prior experience.
Second, you can create a separate section for Volunteer Experience. This may be the better approach if the volunteer positions aren’t directly related to the job at hand.
Wherever you list your volunteer work, make sure you fully describe your volunteer experience and highlight the relevant skills earned. Make sure you fine-tune these skills to what the specific employer is looking for.
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