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You Can (and Should) Put Volunteer Work on a Resume

Volunteer work can strengthen your resumeGood karma is not the only thing you can build by volunteering. You can also build a great resume.

Adding volunteer work to your resume is especially helpful if you're just starting out, changing careers, or returning to work. And even though volunteer skills don't pay the bills, your volunteer experience could be the ticket to your next paycheck.

In an article for CharityGuide.org ("Use Volunteering to Try Something New"), Susan G. Ellis points out that volunteer work places new graduates a notch above fellow students who can only list classroom studies and summer jobs on their resumes; enables career changers to show employers that they not only want to make a change, but have already made the change and are now ready to take it into a full-time role; provides a way for people returning to work to ease back into the workplace, build self-confidence, and get their skills back up to speed; and gives you current contacts and references to help you land a paying job.

If you're still caught up in the notion that it's somehow cheating to put volunteer work on your resume, get over it. I like the way they put it on the Ask a Manager blog:

Your accomplishments are your accomplishments. It's no one's business how much you got paid for them, even if that amount is zero. But perhaps it would help to think of yourself as "taking on pro bono work" rather than "a volunteer."

Successful career changer Barbara Dozetos explains in a Monster article ("Volunteer Work Does Your Resume Good") how volunteering to write for a community newspaper helped her make the shift from bookkeeping to writing. Although she knew she had great writing skills, her resume was filled with bookkeeping jobs. Through volunteer work, she helped a cause that was meaningful to her and built a portfolio that launched her writing career.

Where Does It Go on Your Resume?

Typically, volunteer jobs can go right in with paid jobs, structured the same way (title, dates, brief description, accomplishments). In addition, you should consider mentioning it in either your Objective or Professional Summary.

Examples:

Objective: To apply the direct mail expertise gained as a volunteer marketing coordinator for the Cystic Fibrosis Society to a full-time position as ....

Six months' experience teaching Internet skills at Springfield Assisted Living....

Volunteer work that is unrelated to your targeted position (but still makes you look good) can go under a heading such as Community Service at the end of the resume, and/or in your cover letter.

How to Become a Volunteer

If you're interested in finding a volunteer position and aren't sure where to start, visit VolunteerMatch.org or Idealist.org to be matched up with organizations in your area, or check the web sites of organizations you'd like to work for "pro bono."

Has volunteer work ever helped you land a job? Or has it affected your career in a positive way? Share your experiences with us.

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