Volunteer work

How to Include Volunteer Work on a Resume

Whether you’re a high school student, a recent college grad, or someone who wants to change careers, you might run into a common problem: You don’t have enough experience to get the job you want. Even after you build some experience, someone else always has more. So you need to make your resume stand out from the pack.

If you volunteer, either once in a while or regularly, you bring something to the table that not every applicant does. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only a fourth of Americans over age 16 volunteers. So if you’re one of them, share it proudly!

Let’s look at how volunteering makes you stand out as a job applicant and how to showcase volunteer work on a resume.


How to Describe Your Volunteer Experience

Not every volunteer experience gives you a title. Making your title “volunteer” may leave a hiring manager wondering how it pertains to the job. University Language suggests that you create a title that describes the work. If you volunteer in the church’s library by shelving books and documenting incoming books then you could make your title “Library Assistant.” 

Keep in mind though, that you don’t want to misrepresent the work you did as a volunteer. An interviewer would not look kindly upon a resume that was fudged to impress them. (In the library example above, you should know not to use the word “Librarian” in the title, as this implies a degree in Library Science.)  If you need guidance, speak with your volunteer supervisor and they may help you choose a title.

Under the title, list two or three bullet points just as you would with a paid position. Describe, using active verbs, what your volunteer role entails.  For example, if you organize an annual fundraiser, think through all tasks involved. These may include budgeting, negotiating with vendors, and developing a marketing campaign. Emphasize tasks that pertain most closely to the job you want.

The Balance Careers gives an example of how this might look on your resume.


Highlighting Soft Skills

In addition to on-the-job experience, employers are looking more and more at “soft skills” like compassion, resilience, and leadership. Volunteering demonstrates many of these skills.

Clearly list not only what you do as a volunteer, but what soft skills you use in that capacity. You might talk about how you tactfully give feedback to a beginning volunteer you train. Perhaps you’ve eased tensions during arguments at board meetings. You may have called 300 businesses just trying to find one sponsor for a 5K. Carefully read the job description for the position you want. Notice any skills or descriptors that relate to your volunteer work. Then point out examples of those from your volunteer experience.

Remember, the fact that you volunteer at all speaks loudly. Giving of your time and talent shows that you’re a committed, generous individual.


Filling Resume Gaps

College graduates aren’t the only people who can benefit from a resume booster like volunteer work. If your resume shows gaps between jobs, demonstrate how well you used that downtime. Employers like to see individuals who make their own opportunities.

In this case, rather than making a whole “Volunteer Work” section of your resume, you may intersperse those efforts with the rest of your work experience. Be clear, however, about which work was done on a volunteer basis to avoid misrepresenting any of your experience.


Too Much of a Good Thing

Don’t make the mistake of over-emphasizing your volunteer work. If you have valid work experience for the position you’re applying for, that’s what your employers want to see. Monster conducted an interview with Kara Montermoso, content manager at Idealist.org. She advises, “Your volunteer work should supplement your professional accomplishments and talents, not distract from them.”

If you don’t have experience in your field or if you’ve been out of work for a while, worry not. Including volunteer work on a resume can give you a boost. If you’re looking for ways to volunteer in your community to boost your resume you can visit sites like volunteermatch.org.


PHOTO: Pixabay / CC0 Public Domain

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