With 10 years of experience in my professional field, I don’t lack things to include on my resume. But there’s one thing I’d never leave out - my volunteer work. More often than not, the conversation with potential recruiters veers off in the direction of charity work. That’s why I am always dumbfounded when I see people leaving their pro bono work off their applications.
What doesn’t get paid doesn’t matter. Or does it?
There’s a myth around resume building according to which you don’t put on paper what you didn’t get paid for. But if you can include your grad school internship, who’s to say you shouldn’t put in your volunteering experience? After all, it's more relevant than bringing coffee and making copies, as many interns end up doing.
It’s not only a personal feeling, but one backed by data. According to Deloitte, recruiters are drawn to your volunteer work. 82% of hiring professionals prefer applicants with volunteer experience. They believe pro bono work builds leadership and communication skills, shaping a strong character. What’s more, they are so much in love with charity workers that they are even willing to overlook some resume flows (not that there’d be any, if you use Enhancv, right?).
And yet, only one in three of job seekers mention any unpaid volunteer experience they’ve had. Which, come to think about it, is good news for you. Including your community-service work will help you stand out and win the recruiter’s heart.
What does volunteering say about you?
Looking at a resume with some volunteer experience signals the following:
You are proactive. Not waiting for work to come by, you start working whenever the opportunity arises. Few people are willing to do stuff that’s unpaid, so pat yourself on the back for taking on a challenge.
You are driven by impact. Money is clearly not a driver in this project. You end up sacrificing free time and personal resources to do a good deed. But it’s worth it if you see a result and shape the world around you.
You give back to your community. You feel it’s important to drive change and give back.
You have more skills than just role-related ones. Volunteer workers don’t strive because of their professional skills. To persist, they need ambition and personal drive, strength to drive change.
There’s a lot to make you stand out - but just putting in the word “volunteer” in your resume doesn’t pay. You should tie in your pro bono work to the broader career picture you want to paint.
How to make volunteer experience really count?
I may have led you off by presenting charity work as the silver bullet to recruiters’ hearts. But the impact will be greater if you follow a few key points.
First off, make your volunteer work relevant to your professional development. Be sure to point out if your day to day duties were tied to your career. Point out what were your achievements and what lessons you learned. Maybe you’re an aspiring marketer and you did digital campaigns for a non-profit organization? Even if the tie-in is not so direct, you can explain what that volunteer project taught you about organizing your work, keeping deadlines or working in an international team. Whatever it is, make it relevant.
What I see time and time again is how people would downplay their unpaid experience. You should go the other way and point out the impact you’ve made. Instead of saying “worked as a volunteer for XYZ organization” state what you did in detail: “secured 5 Gold sponsors for the XYZ charity marathon”. By pointing out the specific results of your work you will drive the conversation to the personal traits that helped you achieve this. After all, performance-oriented writing is the key to any resume section.
It’s never too late to start out
The cool thing is volunteer work can be of tremendous value to you, especially if you don’t have much experience in your desired field. It’s much easier to propose pro bono help in your field than jump through hoops to secure an internship at a high profile company. As a bonus, you’ll usually have much more hands-on work entrusted to you and the experience will sit better with recruiters. So go and find a project you’re passionate about now!
Do you already have experience with pro bono work? Share your story in the comments below!