How to Include Voluntary Experience on Your Resume
We know that when it comes to job hunting, employers are looking for recruits who stand out from the crowd.
Beyond the technical skills and character traits that can help candidates blend in with the team, employers are looking for those who have taken the time to gain relevant experience and develop new attributes.
This is why voluntary experience is so important.
Volunteering not only allows you to make new contacts, learn new skills and help you gain valuable experience, it can also help to demonstrate who you are as a person.
Recruiters can learn a lot about a person’s personality through their voluntary roles.
For example, a person who volunteers in a hospital or community center is likely to be caring and empathetic. Someone who volunteers for their local PTA is likely to be organized and community-minded.
But when and where should you include your voluntary history on your resume?
Let’s find out.
There are many benefits to including details of your voluntary work on your resume.
It can help to showcase any technical skills or transferable skills that you may have developed outside of formal training or education.
It can help you to demonstrate your outside interests and priorities within your wider community.
Voluntary work experience is a great way to explain any gaps within your resume or showcase your capabilities beyond the confines of paid employment.
If you have a limited work history, then the voluntary experience can be used as a way to demonstrate your experience.
It can help you to stand apart from other candidates. When you are applying for roles in competitive areas, volunteer work can be a deciding factor for recruiters looking to filter candidates.
As voluntary work can be wide-ranging, you may be questioning what voluntary experience you should include on your resume.
Voluntary work can range from helping at your child’s summer camp to organizing local community projects.
You could even have offered a helping hand at your local church, animal shelter or local hospital.
Any work that you do without being paid can be classified as voluntary experience.
The first decision you need to make is whether to list your voluntary work under 'Work History' or in a separate section.
However, you may wish to make clear that this specific role was classed as unpaid work experience or related voluntary experience.
You may wish to separate your voluntary experience into two distinct headings:
- Related voluntary experience
- Unrelated voluntary experience
Breaking it down in this way means that the recruiters can instantly see what is relevant to them, while also still gaining a broader understanding of who you are as a person.
If your volunteer experience is limited to minor tasks such as walking a neighbor’s dog, or you’ve worked as a parent volunteer to help your local school, it may be better to list these within the unrelated voluntary experience section on your resume.
This is because the experience you’ve gained may not be relevant to the specific job role.
Any volunteer experience listed on your resume should be tailored to the job application. Make sure that you’re well acquainted with what the recruiters are looking for.
If they are looking for an administrative assistant and you’ve previously volunteered at a nursing home, you should focus on sharing details related to teamwork, record-keeping or your communication skills.
It’s also important to pay close attention to the terminology used within the job description.
If they are using certain keywords or phrases, then these are the specific attributes that they are looking for. As such, you should ensure that your description of your voluntary experience is based on these words.
Using particular keywords or phrasing can be vital if the employer is using an applicant tracking system to automatically filter applications.
Volunteer work is often used to enhance a resume that may be otherwise lacking in professional experience.
If you have extensive professional experience, then it’s wise to focus on that, with minimal reference to voluntary roles (perhaps listed within a separate subsection).
However, if you are using your voluntary work to explain gaps in your career history or to overcome your lack of professional experience then you need to be as detailed as possible.
Avoid blanket statements that offer limited information. Instead, you need to be clear about what skills and experience you gained from that voluntary role.
Let’s look at an example.
You may have volunteered at a local food bank, helping your community recover from a crisis.
A bad example would be to simply list
'Administrative volunteer, Pinewood Food Bank, September 2020'
This doesn’t tell an employer much about what you did or what skills you learned.
Instead, you could expand upon this in the same way that you would if you were detailing your work history.
Here’s a good example:
Pinewood Food Bank
Administrative volunteer, September-November 2020
- Led a team of 35 volunteers, helping to organize food donations for those affected by the recent crisis. Helped to train volunteers and ensure that the food drive ran as efficiently as possible.
- Distributed 75 food parcels a day, prioritizing families in need. Consulted with various medical professionals and health and social care teams to establish packages with key dietary requirements.
- Built strong relationships with key suppliers who were able to offer additional donations to supplement the food parcels. This led to an 8% increase in donations compared with the previous month.
As you can see from this expanded example, there is much more information about what the voluntary role entailed.
The prospective employer can identify how this voluntary role was relevant to the job role and understand the impact that this person had upon the organization.
This could depend on whether your resume is written in a chronological or functional format.
If you are using a chronological resume, and your voluntary experience relates heavily to the job role, then you should include the details in date order along with your employment.
However, you should make a clear reference to the fact that it was a voluntary or otherwise unpaid position.
If you are using your voluntary experience to enhance a functional resume, then you can choose to have additional subheadings.
Earlier on, we referenced the inclusion of related voluntary experience and unrelated voluntary experience headings. These would appear underneath your paid-for work experience details.
Related voluntary experience should be included near the top of the page, giving a recruiter ample opportunity to see it straight away.
As mentioned in our example above, your related voluntary experience should expand on what you did, and what your key achievements were. These need to be tailored specifically to this job application.
It’s always wise to include a further subsection of unrelated voluntary experience towards the bottom of your resume, even if you have extensive professional experience.
Many employers are keen to review this because it gives them an insight into who you are as a person; what your hobbies and interests are, and whether you have got any other soft or transferable skills.
This is also an opportunity to mention any additional qualifications or credentials that you may have gained as a result of your volunteer work.
Employers want to know what skills you have. They’ll have listed what skills they are looking for within the job description, so you must show that you have these skills in abundance.
As we’ve explained, it’s important to use your volunteer experience strategically on your resume. Make sure that you highlight what you learned from each experience.
Where possible, try to demonstrate that these volunteer roles gave you the specific skills that the employer is looking for.
When detailing your volunteer experience, it’s always beneficial to consider the SMART acronym:
As with your wider work or career history, you want to wow the recruiter with statistics to demonstrate your impact.
If you can show that your volunteer work had specific achievements that can be measured, then refer to this. You should be trying to offer as much context as possible to highlight your value.
For example, if you volunteered in a soup kitchen, how many people were you working alongside as part of a team? How many people did you serve food to? Volunteering to help 1,500 people over two days sounds much more impressive than helping 10 people a day.
The context of what you did will help to impress the hiring panel and make you stand out from other applicants.
If you have extensive professional experience, it may be tempting to remove any references to volunteer work. After all, you’re well aware that your resume needs to be concise and limited to one or two pages.
However, while it is prudent to focus predominantly on your professional expertise, there are moments where your voluntary experience (related or unrelated) could be beneficial.
If you notice that their corporate website is full of details about community work, then it stands to reason that their corporate culture is heavily biased towards those who are active in their communities.
In this scenario, you may find it prudent to list details of any volunteer work because it could highlight that you are a good cultural fit.
Of course, any voluntary work that you include within your resume should have happened recently. As with your career history, your prospective employer is unlikely to be interested in any volunteer work that took place over 10 years ago.
Your resume can be enhanced by the inclusion of voluntary experience, whether you have a significant career history or you are new to the world of work.
However, what sets you apart from other candidates could be the way that you include details of your voluntary positions.
Don’t pay lip service to your voluntary experience.
Instead, it needs to be carefully considered and thought about in correlation with the skills and attributes that the employer is looking for.
Make sure that you are aware of the terminology used within the job description and try to think about how your voluntary experience matches the employer’s needs.
Where possible, try to provide as much context as possible to your achievements and focus on how to provide tangible evidence of your role. If you directly contributed to an improvement or a success, then make sure you highlight it.
By giving your voluntary experience the same careful consideration as your paid-for work experience, you can enhance your resume and stand out from other applicants.