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Placers Presents: How to Use Volunteer Experience to Land a Job

Placers Presents: How to Use Volunteer Experience to Land a Job

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Could your resume use a little padding? Are you struggling to come up with accomplishments to mention in your interview? If you haven’t already talked up your volunteer experience, it’s time to start.

Your efforts as a volunteer are worthy of praise, and they just might lead to your dream job — a study from the Corporation for National and Community Service indicates that jobless individuals who volunteer are 27 percent more likely to find work.

Perhaps you’re proud of your hard work as a volunteer, but not sure how, exactly, it will fit into your resume. Don’t act on the impulse to tone down unpaid work. Instead, use these suggestions to make the most of your volunteer experience:

Substitute Volunteer Positions For Relevant Work History

An age-old conundrum for job seekers: listings tend to mandate several years of experience. Unfortunately, requisite experience can be difficult to come by when it’s an entry-level requirement for so many jobs.

The good news? In some cases, volunteerism can be a work-around. After all, the barrier for entry is far lower for volunteer positions. Volunteer coordinators are typically thrilled to take on and train new candidates — even those who lack critical skills or are completely new to the field. Grateful for the help, coordinators may also provide glowing references for volunteers seeking paid work.

If you lack work experience in your field of choice, don’t be afraid to play up relevant volunteer efforts. Employers love to see job candidates with exposure to the field, even on a part-time basis or for no compensation. Volunteerism also demonstrates key qualities such as compassion and dedication.

When listing volunteer positions in your resume or on LinkedIn, describe the full scope of each position. Which responsibilities were you given, and how did you handle them? How will the lessons learned in your volunteer position help you in future jobs? For example, if you intend to go into marketing, you can highlight your efforts as social media coordinator for a favorite charity. Perhaps you helped organize and run a successful fundraiser; this could improve your prospects as you seek a position in accounting, finance, or management. In general, you should highlight any volunteer accomplishments that required you to step up and demonstrate employable skills.

Listing As a Job Versus As Related Experience

Depending on your resume, volunteer positions could look like typical job entries or could be included in a special section. Resume layout will largely be determined by which paid positions you’ve held.

If you’re just starting out in your career and have only held part-time jobs in unrelated fields, relevant volunteer experience may be more valuable to employers than your prior paid positions. What looks better: a volunteer position involving leadership and technical skills? Or a paid position at a fast food restaurant?

When the pickings are slim, you’re better off including your volunteer position in the general ‘work experience’ field. If, however, you’ve had one or more full-time, paid positions in your field (or your volunteer job is not directly related to your industry), you can include volunteering in a separate area marked ‘related experience.’

As a volunteer, you’ve contributed dozens or even hundreds of hours to your community. You deserve recognition for your efforts. Don’t be afraid to highlight volunteer experience to gain an edge over other job candidates.

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