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Put Volunteering to Work on Your Resume

by Greg Tucker

Good news. A recent LinkedIn survey found that 41 percent of professionals considered volunteer work as much as paid work when evaluating job candidates. Now here's the bad news: Slightly less than half of the 89 percent who had volunteer experience included it on their resumes. That's a mistake -- put your volunteer experience to work for you.

A lot of job seekers overlook or discount their volunteer experience when writing their resumes. Your volunteering could reveal talents in project management, event planning, office work, or other skills that could be useful to employers.

Here are some tips for working your volunteer experience into your resume:

First things first: Don't be shy about it.

Sometimes volunteering is a personal thing – we get that. But the experience is something that many of us share, and it may be the edge that distinguishes you from other candidates. In fact, the same LinkedIn survey found that one in five hiring managers have offered jobs based on a candidate's volunteer experience. If the experience you've gained is relevant to your career goal, list it!

Choose a resume format that best highlights your volunteer experience.

Many of us default to the chronological style when assembling our resumes, listing each job in descending order from the most-recent to the first. Consider writing a functional (skills-based) resume instead. This style will highlight your strengths and skills, and is especially good for job seekers with limited work experience and those who may have gaps in their work history.

Don't just say “volunteer” or list a job title – give details about what the job involved.

“Volunteer” could mean a thousand different things to someone reading your resume. Likewise, many job titles may sound impressive within an organization, but they could be meaningless to someone on the outside. Be sure to provide a vivid and accurate description of the work you've done and skills you acquired from your volunteer job. And if the position was full time or involved a significant commitment, be certain to list it as such.

List experiences that will help you find the job you want.

Hiring managers often look for people who will fit into the corporate culture and have the experience they need to hit the ground running. Make sure the skills you list from your volunteer work line up with the position you want. If you list skills that don't apply to the position, resume screeners may wonder if you bothered to read the job listing before you applied.

Don't sell your volunteering experience short.

Even if your experience doesn't have a direct connection to the job you are seeking, it can provide some insight into your values and shows that you care about your community. This is especially true when seeking jobs in the public sector. Also keep your eye on nonprofits: This sector accounted for 9 percent of U.S. wages and salaries in 2009, according to the National Center for Charitable Statistics.

Make sure the experiences you list won't send your resume to the trash bin.

If your experience includes work for groups involved in controversial issues, consider whether the experience will eliminate you from consideration. If you acquired an important skill at the job, think about including it in a skills inventory section instead.

If your volunteer experience looks like work and feels like work, trust us, it's work. Now make sure that experience works for you.

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