Volunteer Experience on Resumes

April 7, 2011

Placing volunteer experience on your resume is a way to demonstrate your full range of skills and capabilities, show productivity in employment gaps and to set yourself apart as an involved citizen, willing to take on new experiences and make things happen.  Now the tough question is where to place this experience on your resume.  Keep in mind that volunteer work should be presented with the same value, importance and level of achievement as paid work.

There are a few different placement options that numerous people have taken note of:

1. Add a section to your resume called “Community Service”, or    something of the like

  • Shows interest outside of work experience

2. Present volunteer experience along with paid work

  • Gives ongoing volunteer service same weight and importance as a paying job
  • Most recommended placement of volunteer experience

As with posting your paid work experience, try to include as many similarities between the prospective position and the applicant’s experience.  For instance, if you are applying for a management or lead position you could focus on your volunteer experience leading other volunteers or taking charge of a project.

To emphasis that volunteer work should be presented with the same value, importance and level of achievement as paid work, consider these resume-writing suggestions:

    • Prepare a service statement. This summary includes volunteer position title, a description of duties and responsibilities, skills required, dates of service, number of hours contributed and training received. Also include evaluation of performance and contribution to the organization; in-service training; workshops and conferences attended.
  • Numbers stop the eye and reinforce the value of the volunteer experience. Employers want to know quantifiable results as well as skills. Explain the outcome of your work with some data: amount of money raised, number of clients helped, percentage of successful interventions, etc. You can also assign a dollar value to volunteer hours in each assignment, so that volunteers can point to the equivalent monetary worth of their contributions.

It is recommended that you NOT use “volunteer” as a job title.  It’s an adjective and alone does not convey the work that you have accomplished.  If you volunteered teaching children you could use the title “Tutor”, or if you volunteered in an office setting, “Office Assistant.”

The following guidelines can be helpful for volunteers (and others) when writing resumes: (http://www.energizeinc.com/art/resumes.html)

  • Use an easy-to-follow format. Use bullets and phrases that are clearly written and can be read quickly.
  • Use the same format throughout. For example, use all CAPS for the job title and Caps and Lower Case for the name of the organization. Or vice-versa, highlighting whichever is the more important.
  • The specific address of the organization is not necessary; city and state are sufficient.
  • Make sure there are no gaps in the time sequence. If there are, explain them in the cover letter.
  • Use “Professional Experience,” not “Employment History” as a heading. This broader phrase very nicely includes volunteer work.
  • If the volunteer position was full-time or ongoing, clearly note that on the resume. Most employers will assume that volunteer work is very part-time, short-lived, and/or sporadic.
  • Continuing education and on-the-job training should be placed after high school and college information. The volunteer manager’s records should help volunteers recall various training sessions. This information serves to verify that skills presented elsewhere in the resume were learned in a formal setting.
  • A Summary of Skills and Experience is the area of the resume for volunteers to emphasize special skills, whether formally or informally learned. List three to five bulleted points at either the beginning or end of the resume. For example: “Proven motivational skills” or “Easily adapt teaching style to reach all age groups” or “Excellent organizational and project coordination skills.”

Watch for future research being done by MAVA dealing with job seeking volunteers.

Nicole Burg

Member Outreach Coordinator, Minnesota Association for Volunteer Administration