volunteerism belongs on a resume

You don’t have to separate volunteer work on your resume

Volunteer work belongs on a resume, but there’s usually no need to list it separately.

“Why did you list volunteer experience under my jobs,” Anya recently inquired. “Isn’t that stretching the truth?”

“Stretching it how?” I replied. “Were you, or weren’t you a volunteer at that organization?”

“Well, yes,” Anya said. “But I don’t want anyone to think it was a real job!”

A real job? Seriously? Who ever said that being a volunteer wasn’t a real job?

And that’s why volunteer work belongs on your resume

People looking for work after a bout of unemployment, parents planning reentry into the job market after family leave, and recent college grads tend to feel inadequate about their volunteer experience, ¬†internship experience, and experience on school projects, so they aren’t confident that volunteerism belongs on a resume. But if you have something to show for it – something that will interest an employer – why not?

The key is how you frame it. Here’s an example:

Led design team to develop a combination hardware/software power electronics monitoring and teaching device in collaboration with [computer company] for countries with limited educational materials

Anand, a 2016 college grad, didn’t see how I could include this on his resume, even though it’s 100% truthful, because it was a group project at his university. Sure sounds impressive, doesn’t it? ( he got hired within a month because he was able to list other equally impressive experience). Did he get paid for the school project? No. But I bet he got an A in that course.

Marianne had been out of the workplace for 7 years while raising her family. She showed me her resume with its yawning gap. Volunteer experience – including this one – filled it nicely:

Raised $100K for epilepsy research by driving local community engagement on social media for charity event

This fit in with  her prior employment experience in publicity and marketing roles prior to her family leave. A perfect example if there ever was one for why volunteerism belongs on a resume.

While earning his Master’s degree in Psych, Julian was a teaching assistant at his university. This experience – unpaid, of course – went on his resume. (and yes, Julian got hired by a research facility 6 weeks after receiving his M.S.

Examined emotion-cognition interactions in young adults through longitudinal electroencephalographic (EEG) study on anxiety, addiction and depression under supervision of [professor’s name].

This article in The Muse offers more insight into why volunteer work belongs on a resume.

One more example of why unpaid work belongs on a resume. I had been a stay-at-home mom, sort of. I had worked on Wall Street in the public securities industry, but left when my son was born and while I raised him and his sister (and logged plenty of volunteer experience writing their school’s marketing communications and mission statement), I got a Master’s in English and taught two classes per semester at a branch of The City University of New York. But my resume showed a huge employment gap when I was ready to return to the corporate world. In preparation for my re-entry, I collected annual reports from local public companies, and rewrote sections of each one, mailing my revision to the company’s Investor Relations or CFO, offering to write their next year’s report. Out of the 40 I submitted, only 2 hired me. But so what? I had 40 revised annual reports in my portfolio to show employers. Gap filled.

And trust me – no interviewer EVER asked me, or any of the clients mentioned above – “did anyone pay you for that?”

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