The Age-Old Question: “Does Volunteer Work Count?”
No matter what the economy looks like, unemployed job seekers will always have to contend with addressing the “Why.” Why employed. Recently, I posted an article about dealing with the unemployed bias in your resume or during the interview. To address this bias, one must market themselves even more strategically and be proactive in dealing with the void of employment on the resume. As mentioned in my article, one such way is volunteering. Only skimming the surface of what this entails, I was grateful when a friend of mine offered to dive deeper into this. Sheree Van Vreede, a certified professional resume writer and career coach offers this advice on the subject.
Since I began writing resumes 10 years ago, one of the most common questions I have received from job seekers has had to do with handling volunteer work on their resumes. In the past, this tended to not be a major issue, as the employment market was relatively strong. If the volunteer position had some relevancy to the market the job seeker was focusing on, we might play it up a bit, but generally, volunteer work was an “end-of-the-resume” thing, if it was even included at all.
In today’s job market, however, with the national unemployment rate hovering around 10% (and higher in some areas), and with many individuals finding themselves out of work for several months, we are taking a much longer and harder look at volunteer work.
Is Volunteer Work Valuable In a Resume?
Without a doubt, volunteer positions can be a valuable addition to your work history and to your resume. If you are currently unemployed, and would like to improve your marketability, volunteer work can do the following:
- Show to a prospective employer that your skills are fresh, not stale, and that you have been willing to get out there and use those skills.
- Help explain how you have spent your unemployment time.
- Demonstrate that you are a true team player willing to do what it takes to succeed and willing to use your time to benefit someone else.
Sometimes job seekers feel uncomfortable about including volunteer info because they feel it takes away from the main premise, which was to help others. My personal view is that whether you include it or not, the people you served were still served and benefited from your support. As long as you aren’t presenting your role falsely or making more out of it than it was, you should be proud, as you would be with any other accomplishment (perhaps even more so!), that you participated in such an endeavour.
How Can You Make It Relevant?
The best option for creating a win–win situation when it comes to performing volunteer work during your unemployment requires a little consideration, however.
Think about the types of volunteer roles that would be relevant to the position or industry you are pursuing. For example, at our firm, we recently worked with a candidate that had specialized in vendor and project management for a major financial services firm but had been out of work for two years despite looking for a project management position. However, for the past year-and-a-half, he has been directing a project to develop, fund, and implement a special exhibit at a museum. The initiative included project coordination, research, business development, and content design. Therefore, we were able to effectively leverage his activities with leading the exhibit development and launch as part of his project management skill set.
What Is a Balanced Approach to Take?
You need to consider carefully how you will present volunteer experience on the resume. If you are using it to fill an employment gap, you want to develop it enough that it doesn’t come across as fluff (filler material), but not so much that you deceive the reader into thinking it was a paid position. The best approach is to mention that it was a volunteer role in the paragraph describing your duties or in a short description of the organization (if you have included a company description for your other positions). This eliminates the need to place the term “Volunteer” in the job title. In other words, let’s market the role honestly, but let’s also be strategic about it.
If you are using your volunteer roles to expand on your skill sets and you don’t have an employment gap, creating a separate section to develop your volunteer work can be the ideal approach. In a separate section, you can streamline the entry by listing just the organization name, location, “job” title, and a few bullets highlighting your activities and achievements.
An important caveat here is to be careful not to overplay or underplay your volunteer work. My experience is that job seekers tend to do one or the other. As valuable as it might have been to the people you served, in most employers’ eyes, it is not on par with an actual paid position. So you might not get the reaction you are hoping for if you sell it too hard. However, underselling it could also end up being a missed opportunity for you. Remember that understanding how far to take something, whether it is in regard to your resume, networking, or interviewing (or life in general) is a fine art.
Finally, no matter what, be careful that your volunteer work doesn’t infringe upon your job search time to the point where it is taking over business hours. And try not to pin too much hope on a volunteer position turning into a paid one. Yes, it does happen, but not as much as job seekers think (or hope) it does. Recognize it for what it is: An opportunity for you to serve and to use your time and skills productively.
In addition to being a certified resume writer and career coach with No Stone Unturned, Sheree Van Vreede is a co-founder of an online job seeker social network, NoddlePlace. To find out more about NoddlePlace or about the services offered by No Stone Unturned, go to http://www.NoddlePlace.com. You can also follow Sheree on Twitter as the @rezlady or through @noddleplace.