​​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 attention and acquire the competitive edge? One key option to consider is volunteer work.

Volunteer work proves a vital 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 incorporate volunteer work into your CV?

Well, 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 and provides 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. It 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 in any endeavour.

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 equally 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.

Resources for volunteer work: what are my options?

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, as well as 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 noticeboards 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 assets, 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.

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

entry-level cv example volunteer experience

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

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 nonprofit), 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 is 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.

Need any additional assistance with 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 updated in October 2020 by Lauren Settembrino and again in 2021 by a TopCV Editor.

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