Volunteer work on a resume can look great – 82% of hiring managers say they prefer it! But how and where you list it can be crucial. Read on for our tips on how to sell volunteer work on a resume.

By: Katelyn Skye Bennett | Blogger for Let’s Eat, Grandma

So you’re a recent graduate, coming out of a career gap, or transitioning to a nonprofit, and you have some unpaid experience you’d like to highlight. But is it even worth listing on your resume?

Yes! If your volunteer work it relates to your new job/field, absolutely, and if it fills out a gap in your employment history, go for it.

Volunteer work is still work, with added elements of compassion and generosity, so it can be prime resume material. You did it because you loved it. Now you’re ready to do it for pay, so let’s make sure your volunteer work on your resume makes that possible.

Hit me up top!

A primary concern is where to list your volunteer work on a resume.

Resumes are flexible documents. That’s why you should have a different one for each job you’re applying to, in order to best convey your skills for each position.

Remember – hiring managers are only scanning your resume, so your most applicable work experience should be listed up top, whether it was volunteer or paid. This means your volunteer experiences might be in your “Work Experience” section – and that’s okay!

“The best place to include volunteer work on a resume is the ‘work experience’ section if it’s very relevant to the job, OR you’ve got very little paid experience, or a resume gap.”

-The career experts at Zety.

Ultimately, your resume should flow in order of importance to the job you’re seeking. If you’re applying to nonprofits that directly relate to your volunteer work, you’ll want to prioritize that experience – especially if your employment experience has been in unrelated fields.

Four young adults in blue t-shirts reading "VOLUNTEER" smiling and holding cardboard cut-outs of speech bubbles over their heads.
Relevant volunteer work can “say” just as much as paid work in a relevant industry.

Unpaid experience can be just as valuable as paid, after all. Students, this goes especially for you. Of course your work experience will be more limited than seasoned professionals, but the unpaid work you’ve done volunteering and interning can still show that you’ve done a lot (as #2 on this blog shows).

You can even intersperse volunteer listings with job listings if that’s the best flow for your career experience. If you’re coming out of a career gap but did some volunteer work in that interim, this is your best bet for a coherent resume.

On the DL

However, if your volunteer experience applies less directly to the position you’re applying for, or you don’t need it to cover a career gap, slide it down at the bottom after your employment experience.

You have two options for listing this less-relevant experience, depending on how much space you have.

  1. Create a clear heading and list your volunteer experiences under it, just like you did with your employment experiences. Helping other people always looks good to an employer, even if that wasn’t your primary motivation for the experience.
  2. If you have less space, don’t write the experiences, but still list the special skills you may have used as part of those experiences. After all, how many applicants speak Swahili?

How to wow

A screenshot of the author's resume, serving as an example of detailed and properly formatted volunteer experiences.
My “Volunteer Experience” section – an example of #1 from above. Note the thorough information and numbers I provided!

Remember that volunteer work is still work, so it’s still worthy of in-depth explanation on your resume. You held a position, you performed certain tasks, you met and exceeded goals. Format and describe those just like you would for a paid position.

Highlight your specific accomplishments, use strong verbs, and consider the keywords or traits your future employer is seeking. List numbers (such as people served) and use details to show the scale, always using precise verbs and details that tell “how many” and “how much.”

For example, you can convey teaching, intercultural communication, compassion, and language skills all by describing your volunteer ESL experience like so:

“Taught English to 7-10 Burmese refugees weekly. Utilized conversational Chin.”

That’s concise, detailed, and unique. If it relates to the job you want – a job working with immigrants or in adult education, perhaps – it will definitely help sell you just as much as a paid experience.

Skills to pay the bills

Don’t forget to emphasize the specific skills you utilized in these volunteer roles, too! Technical skills are especially key. Nonprofits need hard skills – from accounting to data analysis – as much as any other entity (plus, hard skills are weighted more by ATS systems than soft ones).

When considering which volunteering skills to emphasize, remember that it’s all about relevance.

Is the software you used to collect data for your nonprofit internship used elsewhere? List it! Is it specific to one organization or unlikely to be recognized? Leave it out.

My knowledge of the Voyager library software will be unhelpful at a refugee resettlement agency, but my ETO experience will certainly come in handy there.

Was your volunteer experience more interpersonal or hands-on? Then it’s a great way to show off your soft skills! Consider phrasing your description of it to include teamwork and leadership skills.

Perhaps your soup kitchen experience seems like something anyone can do, but did you help organize, lead, or manage the shifts? Say so!

Maybe you didn’t lead, but were you handling multiple tasks at once and coordinating with several groups, such as kitchen staff, servers, and those dining there? Detail it.

Did you work with any specific populations that might relate to your new job, such as people who are mentally ill, veterans, or a specific linguistic or racial group? That can boost you, too.

Finally, if you were a consistent volunteer (say, at a shelter), your time also demonstrates your loyalty and dedication. If you make it past an ATS and into an interview, these soft skills will help you build rapport.

There are plenty of options for how and where to list volunteer work on a resume.

Make sure you find the right place and description for your situation, and you’ll be riding your volunteer work all the way to an interview.

Listing volunteer work on a resume can be a challenge – but you don’t have to face it alone. The resume experts at Let’s Eat, Grandma are here to help. Sign up for a free phone consultation on our homepage now!

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