Adding your volunteer work to your CV or talking about it during a job interview is important for several reasons. It allows you to fill in the gaps between jobs, or work and study and demonstrates any key skills you learnt. You’ll also show your personal commitment to making an impact in the world.
The value of volunteering experience is particularly important for recent graduates with limited experience in the workplace, and for volunteers who may have taken several months off from work.
Adding a description of your volunteer experience to your CV will help complete the timeline of your education and work. It also shows that you have real-world experience and that your time off wasn’t just for fun.
If your volunteer work is closely related to the job you’re applying for or was a longer internship where you gained specific skills, you can list it the same as you would a job – just make it clear that you held a voluntary role.
Add the details of your volunteering under the professional experience section of your CV. Give your experience a title and date range. Describe your role in the program and your main contributions or achievements.
Ideally, you should tailor each job application to the role you are applying for. Put some thought into how your volunteer experience relates to the specific role. If you have space, list the relevant skills you used or developed while volunteering.
For example, will cross-cultural communication skills be necessary? Then make sure you describe how you volunteered as part of an international team.
Discussing your volunteer work in an interview
Mentioning volunteer experience in an interview gives candidates an advantage. While talking about a previous job might cover specific skills you have, volunteer experience says a lot about your personality and core values.
Your employer will be interested in your character as well as your experience, so mentioning your commitment to social responsibility, your motivation, and go-getter attitude is a huge advantage.
International travel is also a good indicator of maturity. For this reason, don’t shy away from talking about your gap year volunteering. Spending time overseas as a volunteer is more than just self-indulgent travel.
Instead of simply brushing over your time away, make sure it’s clear that you weren’t sitting around doing nothing during your year off. Talk about the benefits of your gap year and anything interesting that you did, or any lessons learnt. For example, volunteering is usually an excellent way of developing strong people skills.
For anyone new to working, or trying to break into a different field, volunteering is a credible substitute for paid work. Use your volunteering to show that you are a passionate and motivated individual, with both practical experience and well-established soft skills.
Often, interviewers are looking for real examples of when you used a skill, or where you picked up a certain competency. For these kinds of behavioural questions, skills developed on a volunteer project are just as relevant as those from a regular job.
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