Dear Matt: Does volunteer experience really matter on a résumé? Do employers even care about this? What is the best way to make my volunteer experience stand out or work for me?
Matt: When packaged appropriately, volunteer experience can make a strong impact on a résumé, and may be the factor that sets you apart from contending applicants, said Shannon Biegger, an assistant consultant with The Bailey Group, a Minneapolis-based company that offers coaching and consulting services in leadership, team and career development.
"Volunteer experience demonstrates on-going commitment to your community, strong time-management skills, and often, some degree of customer service exposure," said Biegger.
Lisa Frame, managing director of the Minneapolis branch of Kelly Law Registry, a direct hire, contract-to-hire consulting firm, said volunteering shows a commitment to an organization, a willingness to help out and an eagerness to step outside your comfort zone to try new things. Those are all qualities employers look for in candidates. You can make your volunteer experience work for you even more by showing that the experience helped add new, marketable job skills.
"In addition to simply stating the organization you volunteered with, include what you personally contribute and the value you bring," said Frame. "This helps employers envision what this experience can bring to the role for which you have applied. Taking an active role and being able to quantify that role, rather than simply joining an organization, helps differentiate you from others in your candidate pool."
Biegger agreed, emphasizing the importance of highlighting leadership and supervisory positions, because these roles speak to your ability to manage projects and work on what are often diverse teams.
For recent graduates or entry-level workers, volunteer experience from internships, studies and extracurricular activities provides valuable insight into your skills and character, particularly at a point at which your résumé is still slim. As you gain more experience, volunteer work tends to be highlighted in brief, after professional accomplishments. But if you achieved something unique while volunteering, don't be afraid to highlight that in a profile or accomplishment section on a résumé - especially if you are looking to work with a nonprofit. Don't bury it just because it's volunteer work.