Thu. Jul 18th, 2024

Part of the series “Creating Your Own Career Breakthrough”

Including volunteer experience on your resume can help you move forward

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As a career and leadership coach, part of my work involves helping professionals uplevel their LinkedIn profiles and resumes to share the most compelling information they can about their work, values and accomplishments.

Painting a full and compelling picture of who you are in totality, including what you care about (both in your professional life and personal life) along with the types of outcomes you’re excited to support, helps you land thrilling roles. It also assists in building a robust support network that can open doors for you that you can’t open on your own.

Many people have asked the question, “Should I include my volunteer experience on my LinkedIn profile and resume? From my view, both the short and long answers to that question are a resounding “yes!”

What is considered volunteer experience?

Volunteer experience encompasses non-paid work you’ve done that not only demonstrates your skills and capabilities but also showcases causes and endeavors that mean something to you personally— initiatives that you are willing to dedicate your time to.

As this helpful Mac’s List article touches on, volunteering can move you forward in important ways, including:

Building a great support network of mentors and sponsors
Offering the opportunity to apply (and grow) your skills and talents in new and rewarding ways
Allowing you the opportunity to “try on and explore” a new career direction before committing to it
Helping you focus your personal time in meaningful ways that enrich your life
Expanding your toolbox and collaborating with a diverse group of people whom you may not otherwise have the chance to connect with and learn from

As an example, I’m a singer on the side, and have performed for over 40 years in various groups and choirs. In my 20’s, I performed at the United Nations with a small group of vocalists singing backup for Liza Minnelli, of her new single “The Day After That,” in honor of the first World AIDS Day. It was truly unforgettable. And for the past 16 years, I’ve been a member of a community vocal group The Wilton Singers, and currently serve on the Board of Directors as well as support a new Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committee for the group. Interacting and performing with individuals of all ages and demographics, and traveling to Europe to perform with the group, has enriched my life culturally. And serving in a DEI capacity for the group helps me learn key information and strategies that support my professional endeavors as well.

Tip: Write down all the volunteer and non-paid work you have engaged in over your lifetime that has added meaning, value, skill-building and networking opportunities to your life. What skills did you employ for what outcomes? What have these experiences given you that contributed to your personal and professional life? How have they impacted and changed you?

When should you include volunteer experience on your resume?

Include volunteer experience on your resume when it helps add perspective and richness to your professional story and sheds important light on what matters to you as a person, as well as additional skills that your paid work may not demonstrate.

This is particularly helpful for new and recent graduates who may not yet have established work experience in their field of choice, as well as for those who have been out of the paid workforce for some time. Adding volunteer information can help hiring managers understand your transferable skills. In addition, the outcomes you’ve helped support through volunteer work may be just those types of accomplishments that employers are looking for.

Finally, obtaining great LinkedIn endorsements and recommendations from individuals you’ve worked with in your volunteer roles can be very helpful in landing your next paid role.

I would avoid, however, including just a laundry list of volunteer roles that weren’t substantive or important to your development.

How to list volunteer work on your resume?

There are a number of ways you can list your volunteer work on your resume, based on the degree of work experience you have, and how related it is to the next direction you want to take.

If you have extensive professional experience:

In this case, where you’ve worked for a number of years and that work has a clear connection to what you want in the next chapter of your professional life, consider listing your volunteer experience in a separate section labeled “Volunteer Experience.”

Share about these volunteer roles in the same way you would if listing out your paid work, with these elements:

A brief line about the overall core aims and scope of the organization and your role
Key skills you’ve applied to achieve success in the role
Areas you’ve overseen and important outcomes you’ve helped the organization achieve—with metrics, scope and data to illustrate the impact

Remember, stating clearly the impact of your work is key. Share the instrumental “needles” you’ve moved and the growth or success you’ve helped the organization achieve through your direct work or your supervision of others.

If you don’t have many paid work experiences to share:

In this situation, you can add in the volunteer roles in your Professional History section, indicating clearly that the role is a volunteer job.

Highlight the skills and capabilities you’ve leveraged in your volunteer roles that connect directly with the skills you wish to be hired for. Brainstorm the ideal role you wish to land, and find job descriptions online that appear to be a strong fit for where you want to go.

Wherever you can (when it fits the facts), incorporate the key words and qualifications that are listed in those paid job descriptions within your volunteer work description, to illustrate clearly your transferable skills.

Remember, though, that whenever and wherever you are communicating about your work or volunteer experience, it’s critical to share only the truth about what you’ve done. Never lie about or embellish your experience. Countless people have lost out on great job opportunities because they’ve “stretched” or misrepresented the truth on their resumes or LinkedIn profiles. Lying is never the way to go.

In the end, does volunteering count as work experience?

In my view, yes. When we volunteer, we typically engage in the same types of skills and behaviors that paid professional work entails.

For instance, your volunteer work can support:

Community awareness and engagement
Fundraising and sales goal achievement
Team participation and leadership
Resource management
Marketing, Communications, PR and public relations
Strategic planning
Budgeting and financial oversight
Training and development
Project management and execution

… and more.

In the end, don’t let yourself believe that volunteer work has less intrinsic value than paid work. It’s not true. Millions of people around the world who’ve volunteered their time for important causes and movements have shaped life as we know it, and have had crucial impact on the success, health, wellbeing and progress of humanity and our world.

Kathy Caprino is a women’s career and leadership coach, trainer, Finding Brave podcast host, and author of The Most Powerful You.

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