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Good Works: Building Your Resume Through Volunteer Work

volunteer work

Good Works: Building Your Resume Through Volunteer Work

One challenge for job seekers, especially young ones, is lacking the experience that employers want. It’s a common frustration of a circular problem: without the experience I can’t get a job, without the job I can’t get experience. One solution is to find pro bono or volunteer work that also builds skills you can add to your resume.

volunteer work

Here are some volunteer work ideas that can boost your experience:

Dig for opportunities. If you’re a young person starting their career or trying to make a transition to a new field, it can be difficult to have acquired much real life knowledge before applying for jobs.

[bctt tweet=”Though paying jobs can be tough to come by when you’re short on experience, nonprofits are often happy to have an enthusiastic free hand.”]

If you will work for free, they may be willing to spend time teaching you. But you can be strategic in your choices – look for either causes in your industry, or opportunities to do tasks that are relevant to your future career. Sites like org or are great resources that are easy to search for the right experience.

That could mean working for a legal aid group if you want to become a paralegal. But it doesn’t have to be looking for a role in a traditional volunteer organization.

You can simply work pro bono for a company, and focus on being in a role specific to your interests, even if not in your industry. For example, becoming an administrative aide to an accountant in any industry, if you want to work in accounting yourself, is useful because a lot of what you can learn will translate to any similar position.

Negotiate learning for work. There’s no reason why you can’t be honest about why you are interested in helping, especially if you’re doing a job that is for a for-profit business. Tell them that you’d love to work for free, but in exchange you’d like a few hours each week where you can shadow them, or 15 minutes at the end of the day to ask questions about their job.

If you’re doing clerical work all day, you’re not likely learning the real ins and outs of the business. Ask if you can sit in on a meeting, or listen to a conference call.

That said, if you’re working for a volunteer organization, you don’t want to look like you have no interest in their cause and are just using the opportunity to build out your resume, be more diplomatic in your approach. See if you can work in a role that solicits donations if you want to go into sales. The persuasive techniques that convince people to part with their money have some overlap.

Or try to get on the events committee if you want to go into catering or events planning. You’ll get to see the customer side of that relationship, and maybe even make some contacts

Write it up. Once you have some of this experience under your belt, be sure to add it to your resume. If you have achieved any measurable goals list them – if you raised $5000 in donations, or helped organize an event for 100 participants, spell it out. Employers then have an easily measurable accomplishment they can assess, instead of generic information that you volunteered.

Keywords are key. Related, be sure to list it on places like a LinkedIn profile, and use keywords that recruiters are likely use when they do searches for candidates. You can say that you supported the paralegal department, so that the word “paralegal” pops up. Just be clear to indicate that your title was intern or volunteer or something else to be transparent about your role.

You can’t get experience without opportunity, but you can make opportunities with volunteer work.

It can be incredibly frustrating to hear again and again that you don’t have enough experience. But doing volunteer work lets you be more proactive in building your resume, and you’re more likely to find someone who will train you, mentor you, and maybe even serve as a reference for future paying jobs. It won’t pay the rent, but it could help create the opportunity that will.