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How to Put Volunteer Work on a Resume (With Examples)
Nothing makes a better first impression on a human resource officer or an executive than showing you go above and beyond - and that you care. It is critical to learn how to put volunteer work on a resume to show that you are that person.
Applicants with volunteer experience are more likely to be hired. A federal study found that unemployed people – across indicators of gender, ethnicity, job markets or geography – were 27% more likely to find a job if they were volunteering or volunteered the year prior.
Everything is about marketing, however. You should be communicating your volunteer work in an effective way with future or current employers through your resume. You can also take advantage of new tech platforms for volunteers, like Golden volunteer management software, to showcase your skills.
Five reasons to put volunteer experience on a resume
Too often we overlook the soft and hard skills we apply through volunteering and underestimate their value. They can be great tools for filling in gaps in resumes and strengthening your case for an employer. Here are some of the top reasons people put volunteer experience on a resume.
- Soft skills used in volunteer work may be relevant to a position.
Job posts list requirements. These are the qualities they seek in a new hire. Sometimes, our volunteer work is more demonstrative of a particular skill or quality than our history of paid work or education.
For instance, maybe you work at a desk by yourself, as a research analyst or in a similar position. Yet a new position to which you are applying wants to know about your management skills. In this case, you might showcase your volunteer work organizing the fundraising club for your daughter’s soccer team.
You can show an example of how you managed people in this context, in a way that will resonate with an employer. “I organized 8 people with different job roles to run a weekend event with 300 attendees, raising $2,580. The project took 2 months of planning and coordination of people with widely different skill sets.”
2. You are a work novice, but you have volunteered.
High school students or recent graduates may not have much, or any, work experience. In these cases, it’s imperative to maximize your marketable skills gained through volunteer work in your community. Employers might give you credit for work experience even if you were not being paid, especially if the position is entry-level or requires a particular skill you have. It can help to ask your volunteer manager for a letter of recommendation for volunteers.
3. You are looking to change careers but lack experience.
Your resume might look strange to a potential new employer if you cannot show any relation to their field. For example, maybe you dream of being a writer, but you have been plucking away as a computer programmer. You have no practical writing experience. Try volunteering for a writing position first, for an online blog or a charity site that needs a content writer. This way, you can build up a portfolio and gain some experience on professional projects first.
4. You may want to cover up a work gap.
People have work gaps for a myriad of reasons. We have children, we travel, we take care of sick relatives, we are laid off from work, or maybe we suffer from illness or mental health concerns. Unfortunately, an employer might overlook you because of the gap. It can seem unproductive, that you weren’t working “towards something”. Volunteer work can help you circumvent this hiring pitfall. You can list something you were doing in the community during that time in place of paid employment. Employers might ask you why you were volunteering, but at least you get to the interview this way!
5. You have more skills that are not evident from your paid work.
Most of us are multi-faceted, which is why we volunteer in the first place. We want to develop new skills or practice skills we do not use in our day job. Showing that capacity on your resume can make you appear three-dimensional, and also help you move up a corporate ladder. For instance, maybe your volunteer training required certification, such as in first aid and first response. This can be a real asset in the workplace regardless of your job title, and it shows you can handle pressure.
A few more benefits of volunteer experience on a resume
Depending on the type of career you seek, volunteer experience may have an intrinsic value in and of itself. If you plan to work in the nonprofit sector, you probably want to show that you volunteer in a number of ways to give back to your community. The skills are less important in this case. The employer is looking to see that you volunteer, in general, and enjoy doing so.
Another example is for people who may seek political work or other jobs in civic life. Volunteer work can show that you care about the community and can be trusted. A school may be more inclined to hire a teacher who volunteers with sick children at the hospital than one with no listed volunteer experience, for example. The former has already been vetted by another trusted community institution helping the same demographic.
Best practices for adding volunteer work on a resume
You should include volunteer work when it demonstrates necessary skills, when it is relevant to the work role, and when you have no other paid experience to make your case. You also want to include volunteer experience when it is relevant in general, because of the organizational culture (as in when you’re applying to a nonprofit, or when the corporation stresses volunteering as important).
When inclusion is relevant, you want to make sure you are following best practices.
- Use the name of the volunteer organization you supported or support.
- Include the timeframe and the number of hours you worked.
- Emphasize accomplishments, with real examples.
- Link accomplishments back to job skills (hard skills like writing, researching, accounting, and fundraising; and soft skills like management, teamwork, and leadership).
How to put volunteer work on a resume
Here’s the tricky part. How do you actually put volunteer work on a resume to make it an effective tool to boost your career chances? We can lay out the work in three segments.
Weave volunteer work into your professional experience section.
This section is critical to your resume. It shouldn’t show gaps, and it should demonstrate that you can meet all of the job requirements - both technical and soft skills. You can use volunteer work strategically to strengthen your overall capacity.
If you have a stellar job record but want to connect volunteer experience in relation to professional skills, add a small section under your professional experience section with “relevant volunteer work”. You can add one or two roles that exemplify complementary skills in different settings this way.
2. Link examples of volunteer work with necessary skills.
Too often, we make the mistake of listing volunteer work as opposed to describing it and how it shows you are capable. Study the job description and use keywords from their desired skills section to highlight your relevant capacity.
3. Add “unrelated” volunteer experiences that help set you apart at the end of your resume.
This may be the best way for most people with extensive work histories to add volunteering to their resume. At the end, add a small section highlighting your recent volunteer work and accomplishments. If you have special certifications from volunteer training, this is a great place to put them.
Examples of how to describe your volunteer work
We want to show, not tell, and use volunteer experience strategically. This is difficult! Here are a few examples of how to write effectively.
To fill a gap in work experience.
Like many people, the person in the example below probably missed some work time because of Covid. But they can show that they used that time meaningfully and gained new experience through volunteering.
- 2022 to present, Manager, Sissy’s Coffee Shack. Responsibilities in this role include human resources, payroll and management of 12 staff; tracking inventory and ordering supplies; handling cash and credit intakes for annual revenue of $575,000. Accomplishment: Since my employment, the Shack has improved its revenues every quarter and seen its smallest staff turnover in history.
- 2020 to 2022, Volunteer Tutor, Get ‘Em on Track Literacy Project. Responsibilities included dedicated tutoring of 3 students monthly, with 3 weekly virtual sessions. Accomplishments: 85% of students showed literacy proficiency after working with me; I completed 264 sessions and only missed 3 due to absenteeism or conflicts.
- 2017 to 2020, Barrista, Starbucks. Responsibilities included customer service and training on equipment use. Accomplishments: Only missed one shift in three years, highest customer service rating in the store for 2 years, and matched a sales record during the 2019 holiday season.
To show a skill set unseen in work experience.
In this example, the resume owner wants to demonstrate that they have high level presentation skills, leadership skills, and networking skills.
2018 to 2022, Board Secretary, Carolina’s Health Solutions. Served 2 consecutive terms on the board of a nonprofit helping 3,500+ mothers without insurance access health resources in our city annually. Responsibilities included designing and giving presentations to board members and staff at quarterly meetings; writing monthly e-newletters for 5000 donors and community stakeholders; and recruiting new board members (6 during my term).
Frequently asked questions - if you still have them!
The question of whether to add volunteer experience or not to add it is a difficult one to answer. In short, you should add it if you need to, to improve the depiction of your capacity, and also if it adds relevance to your case for a new job or role.
In many instances, especially for higher level professionals, you might consider showcasing your volunteer work on a platform instead of focusing on a resume. Golden is the world’s most awarded platform, used by hundreds of nonprofits, schools, organizations, and corporations. You can upload a profile seamlessly with other systems and with your social media accounts. You will be able to request endorsements from charity partners and from people you have helped and also highlight your best skills.
If you’re wondering how to put volunteer work on a resume if you don’t have much volunteer experience, Golden is also useful. Volunteer recruitment features enable charities, schools and other organizations to look for you and find you, based on your current skills and your desired opportunities. This can help you build up your resume and connect with meaningful events in your community!