Unpaid Does Not = Unimportant!
Should volunteer work be included on a resume? What other types of unconventional “work” experience can be used?
I get asked a lot if unpaid work (volunteer, barter/exchange, even applicable hobby experience or work you did for your mother-in-law because you know how & she doesn’t & you want to get in good with her (right?) can be included on a resume.
Well, it CAN. The real question is – should it?
My answer is, well, sometimes, it depends.
If the volunteer work is relevant to the type of position being sought, absolutely include it the same as you would paid experience, particularly if it’s the main source of experience with those skills or that industry, just make sure to note that it was a volunteer positions in your title.
If you have sufficient paid work experience doing the same thing, then probably not, though I’d decide that on a case by case basis.
If it’s something you do as an outside interest & purpose and isn’t related to the skills or industry of your job search, then maybe include it. It’s interesting to know about you, and adds to the overall (positive!) impression the reader will get, however, it depends on the length of the resume already without that information included.
If you need the space for paid work or education based relevant experience, then I might advise leaving off volunteer work in that case.
Or, simply list the volunteer work, location, and dates, without taking up the space to talk specifically about the tasks you do for that organization. Like this: Volunteer (or Volunteer Office Staff, or other descriptive title), Bayfront Medical Center, St. Petersburg, FL, 2005-2009 without further details.
Care should be taken when mentioning common places one might volunteer – such as a church, synagogue, a non-profit with political leanings or that revolves around sensitive issues/topics, things of that sort. Divulging information about involvements like these, even if you are perfectly comfortable ‘being and showing who you are and what you believe in’ can put the employer, though, in a tricky situation facing potential discrimination allegations.
I recommend that if you choose to include potentially sensitive information like this, you may prefer to be vague about it, listing the volunteer work as “local religious organization” or “local service organization/non-profit” instead of using the specific name.
Other unpaid “work”/skills:
Don’t forget about those not so official projects you may have done that used – and illustrate – your unique skill set. Maybe you have graphic design skills from night school, but moving around has kept you from getting a full time job per se, but you are constantly designing brochures or logos for your friends and family – that counts!
Treat it as freelance or consulting work. Maybe before you had military housing, you supervised the complete remodel of your former home, including ordering all supplies, hiring and coordinating various home-improvement professionals, and keeping that know-it-all contractor in line and on schedule & on budget. Or your organized your sister’s wedding for 300. Those are project management skills – yes, it can count if those skills fit for your job objective.
Don’t sell yourself short & discount unpaid, or ‘informal’ work! But again, only include these sorts of projects if they are the main source of the experience you have doing that sort of work. Paid work (almost) always trumps unpaid. Same rules apply about sensitive topics as listed above for volunteer work.
These are general guidelines. I make exceptions to these suggestions based on individual factors in each of my client’s work histories and current goals as well as the length of the resume content of relevant paid work experience, education and professional development, for example, as well as the length and depth of the unpaid experience.
Remember, you only have 2 pages MAX. Make sure you use that space wisely to exhibit the BEST information that sells you for the job you want now.