by Lisa McGrimmon
Do you include volunteer work on your resume? The short answer is, you should include your volunteer experience on your resume if it helps to demonstrate you're a strong candidate for the job you're seeking. Leave it off if it doesn't help make your case.
The trick lies in deciding whether your volunteer work will help convince an employer you're a strong candidate who should be invited for an interview or not. Here's how to decide if your volunteer work could help you land an interview and, therefore, should be included on your resume.
If your volunteer work is directly related to the job you are applying to, it should be included on your resume.
For example, if you have volunteered at a public library, and you are applying for a job as a librarian, your volunteer work should go on your resume. It will help to show that you have experience working in a library setting and have a genuine interest in public libraries.
That information will help demonstrate you are a strong candidate for the job and should be invited to an interview.
If your volunteer experience is not directly related to the job, but it demonstrates something positive about you as a potential employee, it can be included on your resume.
For example, imagine you are applying for a job as an administrative assistant at a charitable organization that coordinates fundraising events for worthy causes. You have plenty of experience working as administrative assistant, but your work experience is in a different industry. However, you also volunteer with a local service group, and you are on the group's fundraising committee.
In that case, your volunteer experience would definitely belong on your resume.
Perhaps an administrative assistant in that organization wouldn't be directly responsible for organizing fundraising events. However, your volunteer experience shows you do have experience and knowledge related to the type of work the employer does, even if you haven't had paid employment in that sector.
That volunteer work also shows a commitment to your community that would be in line with the employer's values and goals.
If your volunteer work is completely unrelated to the job, but it demonstrates something positive about you as a person, it can be included on your resume.
Let's return to the example of the administrative assistant who volunteers on the fundraising committee of a local service group.
If she was applying to a job as an administrative assistant in an industry that had nothing to do with fundraising, she could still include her volunteer work on her resume. It might not demonstrate any skills related to the job she is seeking, but it could still help her land an interview.
The fact that the job seeker gives her time to a service group to achieve positive projects in her community speaks volumes about her personal character, which is also an important factor in many hiring decisions.
When is including volunteer work on your resume not helpful?
You might be surprised about how much personal information can be inferred from your volunteer work.
If you volunteer at your child's school, and you include that experience on your resume, the employer may assume you are a parent with young children. If you volunteer at your church, and you include that information on your resume, the employer will know your religious affiliation.
Is it a bad idea to include information on a resume that lets an employer infer information about your family situation, or religious affiliation, or other personal information?
But not always.
You need to be aware of what you're telling an employer when you include certain volunteer information on your resume. Make an informed, strategic decision about whether you want to share that information with a potential employer or not.
Some job seekers completely avoid including on a resume any information that might open them up to employment discrimination.
Governments may have regulating agencies and laws in place to try to prevent discrimination - there's the Equal Opportunity Commission in the United States, and the Human Rights Act in Canada - but that doesn't mean discrimination doesn't happen.
Some job seekers simply want to limit the possibility of opening themselves up to discrimination as much as possible, so they omit certain information on their resumes.
On the other hand, some job seekers choose to include volunteer experience that provides small clues about their personal information.
Those job seekers know they might lose out on some opportunities if an employer has an issue with that information, but they feel they wouldn't want to work for someone who had a problem with their family status, or religious beliefs, or some other element of their personal status.
The decision to include or omit volunteer experience that gives away certain information is a very personal one. It should be made with full awareness of and consideration for the possible consequences of including or omitting that information on your resume.
Sometimes more "personal" volunteer work is actually professional.
There are times when volunteer work that may appear to be more personal in nature is actually very relevant to your career. In those cases, the volunteer work should be included on your resume.
For example, if you want to work with children in a child care centre or school environment, and you volunteer in the classroom at a local school to gain experience, that volunteer work should go on your resume. It would be viewed by an employer at a child care centre or school as job-related experience, and not a statement about your family situation.
If a resume is already a jam-packed two pages, and something needs to go, the volunteer work section is one of the first things I consider removing.
If your work experience and education already demonstrate you have the skills and experience needed to do the job, and your volunteer work doesn't demonstrate any new and essential skills that aren't shown elsewhere on your resume, you can omit the volunteer section if you need the space.
In general, you shouldn't include on your resume work experience that goes back more than ten years. The same guideline is true for volunteer work.
If it's more than 10 years in the past, don't include it on your resume unless you have a very good reason for breaking the 10 year guideline.
Keep in mind, your resume is a document designed to show an employer you're a strong candidate for a specific type of job. If you're looking for more than one type of job, your volunteer work might be ideal for demonstrating skills and experience that are relevant to one type of job. It might not be particularly relevant for another type of job.
If you do decide you should include volunteer work on your resume, the next step is to determine where it should go on your resume and how you will format the information.
You can learn how to list your volunteer work on your resume here: