Having a well-organized resume can help you land your next job, but knowing what to include might be confusing. You need to showcase your relevant work experience, education and technical skills while ensuring your personality and accomplishments are front and center, all while keeping within one to two pages. With limited resume space, you might think avoiding mentioning non-essential subjects, like volunteer experience, is best.
But sometimes, including volunteer work on your resume can help you stand out from other applicants, especially if it’s enabled you to acquire skills that your paid work hasn’t. Below, we look at how to list volunteer work on your resume and offer tips to include your volunteer experiences effectively.
Should you list volunteer experience on your resume?
Including volunteer experience on your resume can be a good idea if it helps you highlight why you’re the right person for the job. There are a few circumstances where listing your volunteer work makes sense, but you need to ensure you’re doing it appropriately. While volunteering is important and admirable, it doesn’t necessarily help you stand out from other applicants who want the same position.
Before you revise your resume, consider new accomplishments, including volunteer work that you want to include or older experiences you may no longer have room for. If you had previous volunteer experience that isn’t relative to this new position, remove it to highlight other skills or achievements.
In general, consider the following:
List volunteer work on your resume if:
- You have limited work experience, such as if you just graduated.
- You have a mid-career gap, and your volunteer work is relevant to the job you’re applying for.
- You want to switch careers and you gained relevant skills through volunteer work.
- The company you are applying for emphasizes giving back to the community as part of its corporate identity.
- The volunteer work is specifically related to the position you are applying for.
- You have a blank space on your resume and can fill it with achievements from your volunteer work.
You should not list volunteering on your resume if:
- You have more relevant paid experience that will fill your resume.
- The volunteer position was a decade or more in the past.
- Your volunteer experience contradicts the employer’s core values or culture.
How to choose what volunteer experience to list on your resume
Like other skills on your resume, deciding when and which volunteer experiences to include will depend on the specific job and company you’re applying to.
As you research the company, look for signs that giving back or employee volunteer work is part of the culture. Some companies post values or a community section highlighting employees participating in volunteer activities on its website. You can also scan the company’s social media and LinkedIn pages to see if it posted photos of employees volunteering.
As you write your resume and cover letter, ask yourself if bringing up your volunteer work would help you provide solid examples during an interview. If not, briefly mention it in a single sentence, or don’t include it if you have more relevant achievements.
How to list volunteer work on your resume
Knowing how to put volunteer work on your resume can be tricky since how you list your community service can be just as important as what you list. To show employers your volunteer work effectively, consider the following:
1. List achievements, not just responsibilities
If you put your volunteer work on your resume, make sure it has a purpose besides just pointing out that you volunteer. Describe your volunteer work as you would a paid experience, and list the technical and soft skills you developed.
Include any hard data you have about improvements you brought to the organization. For example, if you helped an animal shelter update its website, instead of just listing that you redesigned a website, you might say:
- Redesigned shelter website to drive traffic to adoptable animals and increased adoption rate by 30% in the first quarter.
Be prepared to back up any skills you list in an interview with relevant examples and actual data. Never inflate or lie about your volunteer experience to make yourself sound better. Besides being morally wrong, you never know if a hiring manager or interviewer has connections at an organization or if they will verify your statements.
2. Choose the right section
If your community service is recent and includes skills relevant to the job, it’s okay to include it with your paid work experience under the Professional Experience section. Use the same formatting for paid positions, but list that it was volunteer work rather than formal job experience.
If the skills you earned volunteering don’t fit the role you’re applying for, it may work best in a separate section. Consider creating a Volunteer Work section under Professional Experience for long-term or extensive volunteer work. If the volunteer work can be a single sentence, include it under the Additional Activities section or something similar.
3. Emphasize keywords
Scan the job posting for keywords highlighting the required skills, and use similar words when listing volunteer work on your resume. Words like management, communication, leadership, customer service, fundraising, etc., can help your resume get past the initial scan of a hiring manager or applicant tracking system and in front of decision-makers.
If applicable, use the volunteer section to highlight any keywords you haven’t already covered with a paid position. Just be sure to avoid overusing or “stuffing” keywords where they don’t belong.
4. Be concise
Keeping your resume short and easy to read makes it easier for someone to scan. It also leaves you more room to include relevant skills. Like with other sections of your resume, keeping your descriptions to the point and focused on skills and achievements can help show that you’re the right person for the job.
Use short sentences or bullet points to document your experience. Focus on your achievements and outcomes instead of detailing the duties or responsibilities as a volunteer. While it may seem obvious, use the present tense for ongoing volunteer experiences and the past for previous volunteer roles.
5. Don’t include outdated volunteer experiences on your resume
While volunteering in your community is important, if you’ve only volunteered sporadically or the experience was more than 10 years ago, you’ll likely be better served by not listing it on your resume. Instead of wasting space by including every organization you’ve ever volunteered for, spend time on more important information, like technical and soft skills or other work experiences that help illustrate why you’re the ideal candidate.
Volunteering is admirable, and your volunteer experience can be a great addition to your resume. However, it shouldn’t be the primary focus and should be approached strategically. Spend some time thinking about where and how to best include your community service based on the position you’re applying for, and keep your explanations brief with consistent formatting.
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