Each week, TopResume's career advice expert, Amanda Augustine, answers user questions like the one below from Quora and the Ask Amanda form. A certified professional career coach (CPCC) and resume writer (CPRW), Amanda has been helping professionals improve their careers for over 10 years. Have a question for Amanda? Submit it here.
Q: What's the right way to add volunteer experience to my resume?
Someone told me it's OK to add volunteer experience to my resume, especially since I've been unemployed. What's the right way to do that? — Gary H.
Volunteer experience is a great way to pad your resume when you find yourself in any of the following situations:
You recently graduated and don't have a lot of professional experience to share.
You're currently unemployed and looking to fill the employment gap on your resume while you job hunt.
You want to change careers and are looking for ways to demonstrate a skill set you weren't able to use during your regular 9-to-5 job.
What type of volunteer experience should you include on your resume?
The best volunteer experience you can add to your resume is skill-based volunteer (SBV) experience. These volunteer opportunities are considered very valuable for your resume because they allow you to donate your time — and more importantly, the professional skills employers care about — to a worthy cause. Take a look at VolunteerMatch, Idealist, Catchafire, and Points of Light's HandsOn Network to find the right volunteer opportunity for you.
However, you might not have to seek out a new charity in order to find a skill-based volunteer opportunity to boost your resume. If you're already involved in a networking group or other professional association, consider taking a more active role within your chapter. This could be anything from volunteering to manage the group's social media presence to becoming treasurer of the group, to heading up a new committee.
Where should you place volunteer experience on your resume?
There are a few different places where you can include volunteer experience on your resume – the placement will really depend on what the rest of your professional experience looks like and your current job goals.
Nine times out of 10, the best place to include your volunteer experience on your resume is within the “Professional Experience” section. This is especially helpful if you're trying to fill an employment gap on your resume or you're currently employed and trying to draw attention away from this fact.
Sample resume: How to add volunteer experience to mid- or senior-level resume
If you're about to graduate from college and you possess internship experience that is relevant to your job goals and employers will find attractive, you may be better off creating a section for “Relevant Work Experience” and then adding another section called “Volunteer and Leadership Experience” for your volunteer and other club activities.
Sample resume: How to add volunteer experience to an entry-level resume
If you're currently employed, you don't have any employment gaps to fill on your resume, and you're not trying to parlay your volunteer experience into a new career, then your relevant volunteer activities can be placed in a separate section toward the bottom of your resume, either right before or just after the “Education and Professional Development” section on your resume. This is the only instance where you don't necessarily need to include many details about your volunteer work; it's enough to simply state the organization and your role within the group.
How do you list volunteer experience on a resume?
Write out your volunteer experience as you would any other position on your resume by including a blurb that describes your role within the organization and then calling attention to your main contributions and relevant achievements in a bulleted list.
If necessary, you can get a little creative when it comes to selecting a “Job Title” for your volunteer experience. Select something that reflects your responsibilities, while incorporating terms that prospective employers will be sure to understand. This is especially useful if your organization doesn't have an official title for the work you've taken on for the group. In the spirit of transparency, I recommend adding the term “Volunteer” at the end of whatever job title you decide to use.
Can you add activism and protests to your resume?
Your activism can take many forms, from volunteering at certain organizations and leading protests to aiding a particular politician's campaign, or fundraising for your place of worship. Whether you put it on your resume or not depends on what you're looking for.
When you should add it to your resume
If your activism is an integral part of your identity and you can't imagine working for a company that doesn't share those values, then you should include your experiences on your resume. Whether it's championing racial justice issues, LGBTQ+ rights, or something else, including them on your resume will be a good test to see if the company is the right fit.
Adding your activism experience is also a good idea if it shows off any relevant skills, like organizing, leading, community building, or fundraising.
When you shouldn't
If you don't want a recruiter or hiring manager using your activism experience against you in the job search, then it will be best to leave it off your resume. Also, if you are looking for a job to help you pay your bills, then you don't want a prospective employer deeming you unfit for the job because they don't agree with your beliefs.
Instead let your resume focus on your skills and achievements that will impress.
Need help positioning your volunteer experience on your resume? Let a TopResume pro help!
This article was updated in September 2020 by Danielle Elmers.