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Leaders: Are they born or made?

Volunteering isn't just good for the soul. It can also look great on your resume.

More than 60 million Americans volunteer their time to a nonprofit or charitable organization each year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. But they’re doing more than spreading goodwill. They’re also making connections, learning new skills and embracing opportunities that can seriously pump up their resumes. You’ve never thought of it like that before? Consider this: The work you do for good can be work that looks good on your resume. Did you help raise money? Develop a social media campaign to get your organization’s message out to the masses? Design a new community garden? If so, let the world know—and most importantly, let potential employers know.

Resume placement

Don’t bury volunteer experience at the end of your resume under “interests” or the like. Move it up top where it should be, because it’s the accomplishment that matters, not whether or not you were paid for it.

“What I suggest is that under ‘Work Experience’ people put down ‘Employment-Related Activities,’” says Bruce Hurwitz, president and CEO of Hurwitz Strategic Staffing. “That’s where you list your volunteer roles.”

When doing so, include the name of the nonprofit, the work you did and your title. Don’t have one? Knight yourself, says Mark McCurdy, author of Strategic Volunteering: 50 Ingredients to Transform Your Life and Career.

“It’s common as a volunteer not to have a title, so create one,” says McCurdy. “Let’s say you helped them with a fundraising event. So you were a fundraising or events assistant. Then think about the outcomes you produced and pepper in the skills you used while doing that job.” 

Fill in the resume gap

Are you between jobs or wanting to make a career leap? If so, volunteering can be a great way of showing that you are remaining current in your field or learning new skills. But remember that it’s not just the volunteering itself that matters—it’s what you do specifically that makes the difference.

“What’s important is to make sure that the volunteering is relevant to your profession,” says Hurwitz. “Once I had a meeting with an older gentleman who was out of work after spending many years in a career in TV and broadcast. I suggested he start volunteering. He told me he’d been volunteering for many years. What do you do as a volunteer? I asked. He said, ‘I stuff envelopes.’ What he should have been doing was working on the marketing committee or public relations committee.”

Volunteering only adds to your resume if the skills are transferable, Hurwitz says. Building a website, supervising other volunteers, creating a marketing plan—if the task could be found on a job description, then it can be a benefit to you. If you are the PTA treasurer, that shows you know how to track and save money.

If you run your charity’s fundraising committee, that shows you know how to raise money. Both can be valuable skills to the right employer.

Companies that care

Wondering where you should send your revised resume? Companies that are mission-driven will put a higher emphasis on your volunteer experience, says Hurwitz.

“There are a lot of companies that pride themselves on volunteerism and have their own foundations,” says Hurwitz. “There are plenty of CEOs who volunteer themselves.”

To find those companies, McCurdy suggests taking a look at the GameChangers 500 list of companies focused on “maximizing their positive impact,” according to list founder Andrew Hewitt. Companies on the list include Google, Etsy, Zappos, Patagonia and Ideo.

So take on the right volunteer opportunity, highlight it on your resume and then send that application to an employer. Next thing you know, you may be negotiating your start date.