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Leverage Volunteer Work on Your Resume

resume workshop

You may have altruistic reasons for volunteering, but giving your time has career-enhancing power, too.

"Volunteer work, whether in addition to a current job or an activity in between jobs, shows an employer that you are willing to try new experiences, be involved in your community and generally demonstrates a willingness to take initiative and make things happen," says Kara Montermoso, content manager at Idealist.org, a site that connects people and nonprofit organizations.

So how do you leverage these positive traits on your resume? The best way to format your volunteer work depends on your career level and track. Follow these tips:

New Grads

Entry-level workers with minimal or no work experience should emphasize their volunteer work -- even make volunteerism a central part of the resume.

"Many recent college grads do not have that much work experience, so highlighting -- in a skills-oriented way -- their volunteer experiences is a great way to go," Montermoso says. "They can highlight communication, leadership and planning skills while showing that they are adaptable and self-motivated.

You can incorporate volunteer work in the regular experience section if you have little or no paid work history. Treat the experience as if it were a paid job -- list the organization's name, location, your functional title, dates and accomplishments. Be sure to indicate your volunteer status in the description or next to the title.

Career Changers and Workers Reentering the Workforce

According to Jason Willett, director of communications at VolunteerMatch, volunteering is one of the best ways to develop and showcase new career skills. "Just because you weren't financially compensated for a skill doesn't mean that you don't have a talent for it," he says. "Mentioning volunteerism-related skills that are relevant to the professional world is one of the best ways to position yourself for a new career field."

Quinn Sidon, director of recruiting and alumni development at Cross-Cultural Solutions, a leader in the field of international volunteering, spreads the word about the benefits of volunteering. "If you're between careers, including your volunteer work may help to offset the professional path your resume outlines and facilitate a discussion toward explaining your career change," says Sidon.

Willett emphasizes it should be clear you're listing volunteer experience and not paid employment. "It doesn't minimize your skills in any way, but it does indicate that you value good communication and are not in any way trying to misrepresent yourself," he says.

Those on a Steady Career Track

"When seeking new employment, you shouldn't overemphasize volunteer experience at the sake of directly relevant career experience," says Willett. "Simply stating volunteer organization name and date may be entirely appropriate." He advises against listing every organization you have volunteered with for the past 15 years -- rather, focus on the most recent ones.

Sidon suggests most volunteer work is best placed in a separate section. "Your volunteer work should supplement your professional accomplishments and talents, not distract from them," he says. The Affiliations section of Monster's Resume Builder is the perfect spot to mention volunteer activities.

Too Much Information?

If you've volunteered with organizations that would reveal information you wouldn't want a prospective employer to know, consider leaving them off your resume. "It's a personal choice to include your volunteer work, and your decision may vary depending on what you want to highlight about yourself and where you are applying," says Sidon. "Consider that it's more helpful to include the skills you learn instead of emphasizing the affiliations the organization had."

Target the Employer

Willett recommends researching the employer to discover how much emphasis it places on community and philanthropy. "Your volunteer section should mirror the results of your research and be modified to suit the background of the company you are interested in," he says.

Adds Montermoso, "If the place that you are applying to works within a specific issue or cause, it could be beneficial to highlight similar organizations you have volunteered with to show that you are familiar with the issue area or to display a long-term/growing interest for a particular cause."

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