Women reentering the workforce after some time may wonder if they should put volunteer experience on their resume. Whether you took a break to raise children, care for a sick relative, or another personal reason, the answer is a resounding "yes."
Whether you have been organizing charity bake sales, packing food boxes for Meals on Wheels, or walking dogs at your local shelter, volunteer work is an education. By performing these tasks, you are developing hard and soft skills that will transfer to the workplace. Deloitte finds that 82% of managers like to pick resumes that include volunteer experience. That's because volunteer experience can not only enrich existing skills but grow new ones. Volunteering demonstrates to employers that an applicant has continued to contribute even when not fully employed and can transfer those skills to a paid position.
However, the key to making the most of volunteerism on a resume is learning how to articulate those transferable skills. It's critical to choose the right resume format for your specific work history. For example, if you've been out of the workforce for a while or have little work experience, a functional resume might be best. If you've got some work experience and have valuable volunteer skills, then a combination format may answer.
Here's how to add volunteer work to functional and combination resume formats:
A functional or skills-based resume focuses more on what you can do — your abilities and skills — rather than on your job experience. Instead of just listing jobs you've held, a functional resume lets you focus on competencies and qualities you possess to give an employer a much better idea of your talents.
One big advantage of a functional resume is that by focusing on skills and not work experience, it's perfect for highlighting the knowledge, skills, and leadership experience you gained from your volunteer work. You can organize these skills by category to streamline your resume.
For example, on a functional resume, your skills section might look something like this:
Software Engineer Experience
Meals on Wheels, Two Rivers, Maine Chapter
- Held a volunteer position as a software engineer for Meals on Wheels chapter.
- Handled programming duties, including web design and record keeping.
- Developed front-end WordPress site and blog with 250+ pages.
- Customized a web app to track all 1,047 delivery clients and 58 temp drivers.
Sussex High School Parent Teacher Association
- Served as both President (2013-2015) and Vice President (2011-2012)
- Led the PTA towards member-chosen goals
- Appointed committee and event chairs based on experience
- Created agendas for and presided over both Executive Board and General meetings
For each category of skill you list, such as "administrative experience" or "financial experience," list five to eight bullet points. Try to add specifics when you can, such as "sourced $2K in donations in a single month" or "cared for 100+ shelter animals."
Don't forget to add a good mix of hard and soft skills to your resume. Volunteer work is excellent for developing skills like organizational skills and communication.
This type of resume might be a good choice for you if you have significant experience as a volunteer but limited direct work experience in the field you seek to work. Use this format if you only have a few years (or less) of work experience in the industry, you've only worked for a small number of employers, or you are making a significant career change.
Women with this type of work history will do well with a combination resume format because, with skills at the top of the document, you can put the skills and experience you developed through your volunteer work toward the top of the resume, where they will be prominently displayed.
Here's how your skills section might look using a combination resume format:
Strong leadership skills • Sales and marketing experience • Tableau (intermediate level) • Excel (intermediate level) • Salesforce Administration (entry-level) • Team player • Hardworking • Creative • Excellent written and verbal communication skills
No matter what resume format you choose, it's also critical to make networking a key component in your job search. Plan to reach out to contacts made in professional and volunteer arenas to let them know you're looking for a job. Remind them of your skills: "Remember when I organized the food bank so that we were more efficient with the resources? Those are the kind of skills I want to put to work for an employer," you can say.
Estimates say that up to 70% of jobs aren't listed on job search sites, and 50-80% of jobs are filled through networking. By writing a resume that highlights your volunteer and professional abilities and using your network, your chances improve significantly in finding the job that best suits your talents.