I wrote a resume and LinkedIn profile for a Chief Financial Officer who was a powerhouse finance management executive across multiple industries – Healthcare, Finance, Publishing, Telecom, Information Services, Technology.
Initially, he characterized himself as unemployed for the previous 7 months, which left us with an employment gap to be addressed on his resume and elsewhere.
Not a serious problem, but one that warranted consideration.
Gaps are being accepted more these days but, unfair as it is, those candidates with consistent employment are typically still more prized.
When we discussed what had been occupying his time for the 7 months since he’d been laid off, he told me about his volunteer work at the corporate level for a world-renowned organization in the non-profit sector.
For the past 2 years or so, he had been traveling to national headquarters and providing critical leadership, counsel, financial modeling and risk management expertise to the organization’s technology and finance people.
We found the perfect solution to his employment gap. This was solid, relevant experience, well-aligned with his value as a CFO, and reinforcing his brand, integrity and compassion as a leader.
“But,” he asked, “this is volunteer work. Can it legitimately be called a job?“
I explained that first of all, it’s not unusual for executives to have employment gaps here and there between jobs. There’s nothing wrong with those gaps being evident, but if we can close the gaps with experiences that support the job seeker’s candidacy, so much the better.
Whether or not you get paid for doing valuable work is irrelevant. He had been contributing many, many hours supporting and improving the organization.
My advice when faced with employment gaps:
- Look at ANY volunteer work you’ve done.
- If you’ve been out of work for several months, and really doing nothing, find somewhere to volunteer your time, so you’ll have something to show in your career marketing communications.
Just as your job search should focus on employers who are a good fit for your expertise, your search for volunteering opportunities should focus on organizations that are a good fit for your expertise.
Your volunteer work will benefit whatever organization you give your time to, as long as you truly commit to it.
- Don’t be someone who volunteers just to avoid an employment gap.
- Don’t be someone who signs up, but rarely (or never) shows up.
Benefits to YOU of Volunteer Work
Along with filling a gap in your employment history, there are many things you may gain from volunteering:
Satisfaction of doing something to help others
Never underestimate the good feeling you get from sharing your expertise to help others. And how gratifying it is when you get something tangible, like a solid lead or two, in return.
Broaden your networks
You’ll meet all kinds of people you may not otherwise come in contact with
Take advantage of one of the most powerful principles of networking – “give to get”
Your generosity and good work build good will and evangelism for your personal brand. This helps to keep you top of mind with your community. People who see evidence of your efforts, especially if you don’t shy away from the grunt work, will likely be happy to help you out when you need them.
Build credibility and reinforce your subject matter expertise
You may already be known as the “go-to” person within your industry for your areas of expertise. Spread that notoriety through your local community or on a wider scope.
Learn new skill sets
You’ll probably be taking on some tasks that are new to you, so your abilities will expand.
Employers will be impressed by your dedication to helping others
Don’t think your good work will go unnoticed by employers. They want their leaders and managers to be well-rounded and community-minded.
Test out a new kind of career
You may be at an impasse in your job search because you’re dissatisfied with what you’ve been doing. Or jobs within your industry may have dried up. It may be time to reinvent yourself and re-think your approach to earning a living. The new connections you make through volunteering can propel your career transition.
Land a paid job through your volunteer work
You may become so valuable to the organization that they want to keep you on as a paid employee. If the right role for you doesn’t exist, they may create one, just to accommodate you.
Where to Find Volunteer Work
There are probably dozens or more organizations local to you that would be grateful for your expertise and help. Choose ones that provide the kinds of services and aid you believe in.
“You can find volunteer opportunities at VolunteerMatch.org. You can search for both in-person and virtual volunteer opportunities, and you can search by specific areas, so look for volunteer opportunities in your career field.
There’s also Idealist.org. It has volunteer and internship opportunities posted right along with paid job listings. You can search for remote and on-site opportunities and find only the opportunities that match your interests by sorting by causes.
All for Good (now found at engage.pointsoflight.org) lets you search volunteer opportunities by location. You can also filter your results to search by cause, family-friendly projects, and remote opportunities.”
Additionally, DoSomething.org suggests 9 places to volunteer online.
How to Put Volunteer Work on Your Resume and LinkedIn Profile
Make sure the way you present your volunteer work will resonate with your target employers. Also if your volunteer work was from many years ago, it may not make sense to include it.
List your volunteer work the same way as any job with:
- your job title or role
- name of the organization
- dates you held each job or role
- a brief summary of responsibilities
- skills you used
- valuable contributions
Just like with any job, if you led or were involved in any projects:
- Describe your level of involvement
- Explain how you contributed to the efforts
- Encapsulate what the outcomes were
- Use storytelling to describe projects
- Use bullet points, where applicable to break up the content
There is no need to call out your volunteer work as such, or note that you weren’t paid.
Typically, place your volunteer information in the Experience section, right along with paid work, and listed chronologically along with paid work.
Some volunteer work (such as some Board of Directors work) may be relevant and particularly important to your target employers. If so, I would call it out and include a line or two about it in the initial resume summary section and LinkedIn profile About section.
You may also want to list volunteer work that isn’t relevant to the kind of job you’re seeking. Employers are impressed by people who are dedicated to their community and give of their time. This kind of volunteering is better placed in a separate resume and LinkedIn profile section, towards the bottom of your resume and profile.
When NOT to include volunteer work
Agency recruiter Jaclyn Westlake offered an exception to the above:
“One minor, but important caveat: Volunteering for certain organizations may give away more personal information than you’re ready to share with a prospective employer.
For example, if you’re the vice president of the PTA, a recruiter will likely assume that you have children, while volunteering for a religious or political organization may reveal your spiritual or partisan beliefs. This could make you more vulnerable to unfair bias.
I know, it totally sucks. But, it is a reality (albeit a largely illegal one). So, you may want to consider leaving potentially-revealing volunteer work out.”
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