How to use volunteer experience to make your resume stand out

Published on: 5 June 2018 Last updated: 16 September 2020

With 10 years of experience in my professional field, I’m not lacking things to include on my resume. But there’s one thing I never leave out – my volunteer work. More often than not, the conversation with potential recruiters veers off in the direction of charity work. That’s why I am always dumbfounded when I see people leaving their pro bono work off their applications.

What isn’t paid doesn’t matter. Or does it?

Enhancv How to use volunteer experience to make your resume stand out volunteer resume

There’s a myth around resume building which says that unpaid work doesn’t belong on a resume. But if you can include your grad school internship, who’s to say you shouldn’t put in your volunteering experience? After all, it’s more relevant than bringing coffee and making copies, as many interns end up doing.

Volunteering resumes stand out

It’s not just a personal opinion, but one backed by data. According to Deloitte, recruiters are drawn to your volunteer work. 82% of hiring professionals prefer applicants with volunteer experience. They believe unpaid work builds leadership and communication skills, shaping a strong character. What’s more, they’re love this kind of work so much they’re often willing to overlook some resume flaws (not that there’d be any, if you use Enhancv, right?). So your volunteer work might very well compensate for a lack of work experience or poor grades in university.

And yet, only one in three of job seekers mention any unpaid volunteer experience they’ve had. Which, come to think about it, is good news for you. Including your community-service work will help you stand out from all the other resumes and applicants out there.

What does volunteering say about you?

Enhancv How to use volunteer experience to make your resume stand out volunteer resume

A resume with volunteer experience tells the person hiring you a lot:

  • You’re proactive. Not waiting for work to come to you, instead you start working whenever the opportunity arises. Few people are willing to do stuff that’s unpaid, so pat yourself on the back for taking on a challenge.
  • You are driven by impact. Money is clearly not a driver in this project. You end up sacrificing free time and personal resources to do a good deed. But it’s worth it if you see a result and shape the world around you.
  • You give back to your community. You feel it’s important to drive change and give back.
  • You have more skills than just role-related ones. Volunteer workers don’t strive because of their professional skills. To persist, they need ambition and personal drive, strength to drive change.
    There’s a lot to make you stand out – but just putting in the word “volunteer” in your resume doesn’t pay. You should tie in your unpaid work to the broader career picture you want to paint.

How to make volunteer experience really count?

Enhancv How to use volunteer experience to make your resume stand out volunteer resume

I may have led you off by presenting charity work as the silver bullet to recruiters’ hearts. But the impact will be greater if you follow a few key points.

First off, make your volunteer work relevant to your professional development. Be sure to point out if your day to day duties were tied to your career. Point out what were your achievements and what lessons you learned. Maybe you’re an aspiring marketer and you did digital campaigns for a non-profit organization? Even if the tie-in is not so direct, you can explain what that volunteer project taught you about organizing your work, keeping deadlines or working in an international team. Whatever it is, make it relevant.

What I see time and time again is how people downplay their unpaid experience. You should go the other way and point out the impact you’ve made. Instead of saying “worked as a volunteer for XYZ organization” state what you did in detail: “secured 5 Gold sponsors for the XYZ charity marathon”. By pointing out the specific results of your work you will drive the conversation to the personal traits that helped you achieve this. After all, performance-oriented writing is the key to any resume section.

It’s never too late to start

Enhancv How to use volunteer experience to make your resume stand out volunteer resume

The cool thing is volunteer work can be of tremendous value to you, especially if you don’t have much experience in your desired field. It’s much easier to propose unpaid help in your field than jump through hoops to secure an internship at a high profile company. As a bonus, you’ll usually have much more hands-on work entrusted to you and the experience will sit better with recruiters. So go and find a project you’re passionate about now!

If you’d like to see a real example of a stunning resume which uses volunteer experience effectively, check out Steffany Photopoulos’s successful volunteering resume example.


*note, the original version of this post was published in March of 2017

Vassilena Valchanova

A marketing specialist with a passion for digital. Loves finding efficient ways for brands and communities to grow together. Also, a cat-lover, cappuccino addict, early riser and theatre enthusiast.

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