​​Take your CV up a notch by including volunteer work

From customising your cover letter to leveraging your LinkedIn connections, the job search remains a full-time role in itself. So how can you capture the attention of the hiring manager and acquire a competitive edge? One option to consider is volunteer work.

Volunteer work proves a valuable addition to any CV: it can accommodate gaps in employment, provide access to invaluable connections, and convey commitment to community causes that creates a favourable first impression.

But what is the proper way to showcase volunteer work on an application? Whilst some experts believe it best for job seekers to allocate it to a separate section, others suggest including it alongside employment history. With this contradiction in mind, this article aims to cut through the confusion of how to add volunteering to your CV.

In the following guide, we'll provide several actionable insights on how to showcase your skill set to every potential hiring manager. Let's take a look.

The value of volunteer experience on a CV

Volunteer experiences abound in every field of endeavour; from presenting a programme on hospital radio, to managing the social media accounts for a charity, performing community service, conducting successful fundraising events, or carrying out church volunteer work, there really is something for everyone! Thus, you can easily find work that fits you both personally and professionally.

The benefits of putting volunteer experience on your CV are numerous. This move can reassure prospective hiring managers and employers that you're the right cultural fit for the job and company, for example. 

Also, if you have a considerable gap on your resume since your last role, volunteer work is a perfectly acceptable buffer to fill the interim; any prospective employers are likely to be suitably impressed that you used the period between jobs to gain additional key skills and organise your time effectively ‒ both of which are invaluable in a work environment where a talent for time management and dedicated drive are vital for success.

Additionally, in today's competitive arena, companies want to know that your motivation extends beyond the perks of a pay cheque. Passion is infectious and, by learning how to include volunteer experience on your CV, you can help to demonstrate that the passion you profess is fully authentic, rather than simply a means to an end. 

Finally, the professional experience and skills developed during volunteer work remain transferable to the world of employment. From communicating with people of all ages to developing problem-solving skills, volunteering provides hands-on experience that can complement existing qualifications and achievements.

When to list volunteer work on your CV

As we've already covered, including volunteer work on your CV can be valuable. While you can always list these posts on your application, there are times when they become all the more impactful. Let's take a look at some of the best times to include this work on your CV.

Switching careers

Are you hoping to enter a new field of work? When you're a career changer, listing voluntary work on your CV could make all the difference. Since the vast majority of your work experience will be confined to your former sector, you need to figure out how to showcase your passion and ability for the industry that you want to enter now. 

When you've made the decision to change careers, it could be worth looking for some voluntary or unpaid work. For example, you may undertake an internship, a placement, or simply help out at a local business. Gaining experience that is either within - or, at least, adjacent to - the industry you plan to break into is a step in the right direction.  

Limited experience 

Let's say you're a school leaver or recent graduate. Chances are, you haven't got years of working experience. You may not have any at all. However, this is where voluntary work can set you apart from the competition. Whether you worked in a local charity shop, volunteered at an animal centre, or worked with disadvantaged young people, shout about it here. All of the above show that you offer more than your average candidate with zero experience. 

When listing any volunteer work on your CV, emphasise the skills you acquired during the position. It's likely that each voluntary role will equip you with a wealth of transferable skills. So, while the unpaid position may not overlap entirely with the job for which you're applying, there's a good chance that some of the tasks and duties you covered will. 

Gaps in your CV 

Work lives are not always linear. You may have taken time off to look after an elderly relative, had a gap year and travelled, or switched careers (see above!). In any of these cases, having a gap in your CV can be stressful. You may have heard the old rumour that hiring managers dismiss applicants who have had periods of being out of work. First of all, that's not always the case. Of course, there could be many reasons for this break.

Secondly, if you want to give yourself the best chance of success, honesty is the best policy. It's important not to hide the fact that you have a gap. Instead, you should be upfront about it when applying for new jobs. It's at this point that you can highlight volunteer work on your CV. If you undertook some unpaid work while you were off, it could work in your favour. 

Resources for volunteer work: what are my options?

Want to get some volunteer work under your belt? The internet is a treasure trove of resources to help you to source an opportunity that enables you to pursue your particular passions whilst making a notable difference to your community and CV alike. 

Sites such as Do-it and the National Council for Voluntary Organisations provide a wealth of information on all aspects of volunteering, including policy, events, and regional volunteer roles. They also share online forums where you can contact past and present volunteers, to gain an insider's view into what volunteering involves and how it helped them to find suitable employment.

Looking for something more local? Newsagent notice boards often feature a diverse collection of voluntary community roles, from assisting at a polling station to helping children learn to read. Still undecided? Find a cause you're passionate about, do some research, and take that leap of faith! Your chosen cause will undoubtedly find your sense of initiative inspiring and, in most cases, will be more than happy to provide you with a glowing reference for your volunteer CV to help you to secure your dream career down the road.

How to include volunteer work on CV

Once you've started volunteering, you'll want to showcase your experience in the best possible light on your CV. Although it's tempting to provide as much information as possible, brevity is often the better option.

First and foremost, incorporate as many relevant keywords as possible within your volunteer work description, in order to increase your visibility to potential employers and hiring managers in the industry you're targeting.

Irrespective of industry, any volunteer experience should also be featured on your CV as a standalone role; choose a role title that encapsulates your duties, followed by a brief description of your corresponding responsibilities.

If you received any awards or other notable recognition for your work, then highlight them as priority. Talking up our achievements may not come naturally to us Brits, but remember: your CV is your calling card for your future career success, so you need to flaunt your greatest selling points.

Where to include volunteer work on your CV 

Now that you understand the logistics of including volunteer work on your CV, let's talk about where you can put it. There are two main options that you should consider here: your work experience section or a dedicated volunteer experience section. Here's a breakdown of both.

Work experience section 

Your work experience section typically takes a reverse chronological format. That means that your most recent job sits at the top of the section, and then you work your way back in time as you move downward. That's easy enough. If your volunteer work lasted for a significant period, you can slide it into your work experience section at the right point. 

When it comes to what to include, use the same format you would for any other role. That means starting with the name of the business or charity, your role, and the dates you volunteered. Below that, you can include bullet points covering your duties and skills. Be sure to make it obvious to the reader that the work was voluntary rather than a paid role. 

Dedicated volunteer experience section 

Of course, there are times when your experience won't fit within the parameters of your work experience section. For example, you may have undertaken a handful of volunteer posts that you want to highlight in your next application. If that's the case, you can include a volunteer section of work on your CV. This section should be placed at the bottom of the page.

Unlike your work experience section, the space that you can dedicate to each position will be severely limited here. So, rather than including a few bullet points detailing the ins and outs of your role, you will only have room for one sentence or a few words. That means that you have to be more selective when it comes to what you share with the hiring manager. Of course, you should also include the main information, such as the role, charity, and dates. 

Volunteer work on a CV - examples

Example: how to add volunteer work to your entry-level CV

Ready to show off about your volunteer experience? Placing this work on your CV doesn't have to be hard. Here's an example of how you may include it in your entry-level CV.  

entry-level cv example volunteer experience

Example: How to add volunteer work to your mid- or senior-level CV

As you work your way up the career ladder, voluntary experience will still be important. As such, here's an example of how to include volunteer work on your CV if you are a mid- or senior-level employee:

mid- senior-level CV example volunteer experience

Should you include activism on your CV?

One shape volunteering can take is through activism work, whether by participating in protests, working with a political campaign, or raising funds for causes you believe in. This work can be an asset to your CV but, because of its potentially controversial nature, whether or not you include it should depend on what you're looking for in your next role.

When to include activism on your CV

If you are applying for a job with any organisation that's involved in activist work (e.g. a non-profit), you should absolutely include your volunteer activism on your CV. In fact, you should feature it heavily. You want the HR Manager to see that you have experience in the field. Moreover, you want to show that you are so passionate about activist work that you've pursued it in your free time.

You should also include activist work if it's a core part of your identity, either personally or professionally. True, an employer may look at your CV, realise the ideological differences between you, and thus choose to reject your application. However, that's exactly the point. 

If you can't see yourself working for a company that differs from your core values, including your volunteer activism on your CV can be a kind of litmus test to determine whether or not you want to work there before you go too far in the recruitment process.

When not to include activism on your CV

If you enjoy your volunteer activism but do not consider it an integral part of your identity, you may want to leave it off. Working for an organisation with which you have ideological differences may not be a deal-breaker for you, so it's not worth the risk to offer information an HR Manager could hold against you.

Instead, focus your CV on your work experience and relevant skills that show you're qualified for the job without any complications.

The takeaway 

Listing volunteer work on your CV is a quick way to strengthen your application - so long as you get it right. In this guide, we've covered the times when it's most appropriate to include these roles on your next application. Make sure that you list this work appropriately and make it clear to the hiring manager that it was unpaid. Give it a go now! 

Need any help leveraging volunteer experience on your CV? Submit your CV for a free CV review to make sure you're putting your best foot forward.

This article was originally written by Chantelle McInnes and has been updated by Charlotte Grainger

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