Let’s face it - first impressions matter. And when it comes to job search, your resume will be the first impression a potential employer will have of you.
This begs the question: how do you make your resume stand out in a pile of job applications?
You try to make every section count. And a particularly beneficial one to have in this regard is volunteer experience.
A volunteer experience section can be a great way to showcase your skills if you’re just starting on your career, or even if you have a work experience gap on your CV. It is also an indicator that you are not just any other money-driven applicant, but also someone who cares about giving back to the community.
But what is the best way - and time - to include volunteer experience in your resume? That’s exactly what this article will show you.
Read on to find out:
- What is a Resume Volunteer Experience Section?
- When to Include Volunteer Experience in Your Resume?
- How to Include Volunteer Experience in Your Resume?
- How to Get Your Volunteer Experience Section Right?
What is a Resume Volunteer Experience Section?
The volunteer experience section of a resume includes any unpaid work you’ve done that could be relevant to your application. In addition to being an effective way to showcase your professional skills, it also shows that you are a purpose-driven person. The studies speak for themselves - volunteering can open a new path to employment.
You can list volunteer experience either under the work experience section or as a separate section entirely. Below, we’re going to explain how, exactly, you can do both.
But first, here’s an example of how volunteer experience (as a separate resume section) looks like:
When to Include Volunteer Experience in Your Resume?
While having a volunteer experience section in your resume can be an asset, it’s not always going to be useful. There’s value in knowing when volunteering can be relevant in improving your chances to get hired and when it can be dead-weight.
Here’s our cheat sheet on when to and when not to include volunteer experience in your resume.
- The company you are applying for emphasizes ‘giving’ as part of its identity. Employees at VMware, for example, are given volunteer hours which they can use instead of doing standard work.
- You have recently graduated and have no work experience.
- You have extra space on your resume or an employment gap.
- You are applying for an NGO, non-profit, or charity organization.
- The volunteer work is outdated. Volunteer work is awesome, yes, but you want it to be as time-relevant for the recruiter reviewing your application as possible. And experience from a decade ago rarely cuts it.
- You can fill up your resume with more relevant sections, such as paid work and education. As a rule of thumb, the first thing a recruiter notices in a resume is paid experience and education - volunteering experience is just a nice-to-have extra. This means you shouldn’t squeeze in volunteer experience if it means cutting out more important sections from your resume.
How to Include Volunteer Experience In Your Resume
Now that we went over the whens, let’s go over the most important part - how to include volunteer experience in your resume in a way that highlights your skills and emphasizes your achievements.
As we mentioned before, volunteer experience can be a section of its own or can count as work experience in some specific cases.
DO include it as part of the work experience section if:
- The experience is super relevant to the job you are applying for.
- You have otherwise little paid experience.
For example, let’s say you’re applying for a job in Journalism, but you’ve never worked as a professional in the field. However, you have plenty of journalism experience from years of volunteering at your university’s newspaper.
Reading Owl Daily
2017 - 2019
- Volunteering experience as Reporter for the University’s daily newspaper. Covered the News section, as well as handled copy editing.
- Kept track of the newspaper’s online presence and updated its WordPress site daily.
- Wrote a total of 50 interviews for two years.
Now, when your volunteering experience isn’t specifically related to the job you’re applying for, you’re better off creating a separate volunteer experience section and formatting it just like the work experience section:
- Volunteering Position
- Organization You Volunteered For
- Responsibilities & Achievements
If you want your unrelated volunteering experience to stand out, however, simply listing your responsibilities and achievements won’t do. Instead, you want to show how the volunteer experience ties you to the job you are currently applying for.
Confused? Let us cover an example:
Say that you have been helping at the local animal rescue center for a year, but now you’re applying for a marketing company. Your volunteer experience is not marketing-relevant, but it can be tailored as such.
- Helped develop an online platform for stray animals’ adoption that saved 100+ dogs and cats, on behalf of the Animal Rescue Center.
- Wrote copy for the online platform and created banners and brochures to advertise it.
Keep in mind, though, that tailoring is not something that you have to do all the time - volunteering experience is going to help whether or not it’s related to your field.
If you can tailor it to the job, though, that is, for sure, a big plus.
Volunteer Experience Section Example
Looking for some inspiration? Look no further!
Here’s what a well-crafted volunteer experience section looks like on a resume:
International Federation Red Cross, France
5/2016 - 5/2017
- Provided presentations about Red Cross programs in the community.
- Assisted the fundraising team with writing grant proposals.
Now, if you’re listing your volunteering experience as part of the work experience section, here’s how it could look like if you were applying for a job in the communications field:
Team London Volunteer
Mayor of London Office
09/2018 - 08/2019
- Supported the implementation of a new external communications strategy.
- Created a new e-newsletter to share with a variety of stakeholders to keep them up to date with internal news and to gain new supporters.
- Generated visual content for the organization’s social media platform.
How to Get Your Volunteer Experience Section Right
There’s more to creating a compelling volunteer experience section than just writing it out. Here are our top 3 tips on including volunteering in your resume the right way:
Tip #1: Follow the Format.
As we mentioned before, there is a pretty straightforward format one can follow to list volunteering experiences.
Here’s what it looks like:
- Your position and/or title
- Company/Organization name
- Volunteering timeframe
Tip #2: List Achievements Over Responsibilities.
When possible, you want to focus more on achievements as opposed to responsibilities in your resume (and this applies to volunteer experience, too).
Here’s what we mean by that:
Let’s assume that you have volunteer experience as a research assistant. The responsibilities are pretty obvious - i.e. compiling and distributing questionnaires, collecting and analyzing relevant data, doing statistical and analytical work, etc.
The HR knows all this - they’re reviewed hundreds of similar resumes, all of which mention the same responsibilities.
If you, however, focus on showing how you concretely contributed to the research, by say, pointing out that 50% of the data analyzed by you was used to advance it, you’d have told the recruiter something completely new and compelling that makes you stand out.
Focusing on your achievements, when relevant, is your best chance at giving your resume the upper hand.
To give you a more concrete example, though, here’s a comparison of achievements done right:
- Compiled and distributed qualitative questionnaires with a 90% response rate.
- Completed 50% of the data analysis later used to advance the project’s research.
However, in some industries, you might have fewer achievements to list than in others. If you volunteered at your local homeless shelter, your day-to-day goal probably wasn’t to distinguish yourself but help others. If that’s the case, listing responsibilities is OK.
Here’s how that would look like in your resume:
- Registering homeless people into the shelter.
- Unpacking and distributing food aids.
- Oversee opening and closing of the shelter 2 times/week.
Tip #3: Keep It Relevant
Only mention your volunteering experience if they’re recent and relevant.
For example, if you volunteered 5 years back, and since then you have worked several professional roles in your field, you don’t need to go back in time and mention that volunteering experience (even if it was an amazing learning experience).
In such a case, your volunteering experience is neither recent (it happened 5 years ago), nor relevant (you probably learned a lot more from your recent positions).
And we’re done! By now, you should know everything on how to include volunteering experience in a resume.
Now, let’s recap all the main points we’ve covered:
- Volunteer experience can be a huge plus to your job application, especially if you are a recent graduate, have a gap in your resume, or are applying to an NGO.
- List volunteer experience either as a separate section or as work-related experience (if your volunteering experience is related to the job you’re applying for).
- When listing your volunteering experiences, when possible, include achievements over responsibilities. Responsibilities are what put you on the same plate as all other applicants - your achievements are what set you apart!