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Sunday, September 7, 2008

listing volunteer work on a resume

A reader writes:

I am currently doing freelance consulting to make a little extra money (and I mean little) and keep my resume active while I am job hunting. I also do extensive volunteering, but some of that volunteering has turned into more substantive program development and outreach that I am proud of, and I am even referred to as a consultant by some of the organizations (although, alas, unpaid at this point).

My question is: Is it appropriate to list this unpaid consulting experience on my resume together with my paid gigs as a freelancer without mentioning the monetary distinction, or does protocol demand that I keep the two separate or identify it specifically as "volunteer," even though they are both equal in terms of utilizing my skills and resources to help make good things happen for people? For some reason, I get the queasy feeling that some prospective employers will think I am resume-padding if I also highlight my unpaid freelance achievements along with my paid ones, although I would be more than willing to disclose this in the interview process. This is particularly true for the dreaded online application forms that ask for beginning and ending salary.

And maybe it is my own insecurity talking here, but do you think that prospective employers might devalue my unpaid work (no matter how substantive) when considering me as a candidate? I don't want to be disingenuous on my resume about paid vs. unpaid work, yet I don't know if I have to make such sharp distinctions, either, if I don't have to. I just feel that, even in the non-profit world that is supposed to be more progressive, people sometimes still judge you on how much you make, or don't. How to handle this?

I think it's fine to lump the the volunteer work in with the paid work. As an employer, the only concern I'd have here is whether the organizations you were donating your time to were holding the bar lower/holding you less accountable since your work was free. But that's pretty easy to address, by focusing on accomplishments in your resume, rather than just listing duties.

Your accomplishments are your accomplishments. It's no one's business how much you got paid for them, even if that amount is zero. But perhaps it would help to think of yourself as "taking on pro bono work" rather than "a volunteer."

And by the way, I'm glad you're listing this stuff. Sometimes in the course of an interview, it comes out that someone has highly relevant experience that they left off their resume because it was volunteer and so they thought it "didn't count." It counts.


Anonymous said...

Interesting question that makes me rethink my own resume.

I'm in IT and moderate a couple of technical forums on-line (one of them is consistently the #1 Google result for its area and the other is moving up). There's no money involved. It's just the need to stay current in tech and the desire to give back to the community. Along with the other moderators, I answer technical questions, settle disputes, keep discussions on track and generally maintain order on a daily basis.

My day job has moved from the bare-metal technical work over to the analyst and planning side now, so could I leverage my side-line if I was on the market? Is there value there that would pique interest?

Anonymous said...

I absolutely hope that people put their volunteer and community work on their resume. I have seen it done a couple different ways. Sometimes the consulting or non-paid experience is included in the Work History with dates, duties, etc. I have also seen it included under a heading of Community Service.

One thing that I would encourage if you are using non-paid work history, be certain to include one of your supervisors from the volunteering in your references.

This is a terrific opportunity to highlight your versatility, skills that may not show up in your current position and other interests.

Susan Ireland said...

I think it's fine to list unpaid experience under your work history section without mentioning that it was volunteer. Just be sure the heading of the section doesn't imply that you were paid. For instance, instead of Employment History, use a heading such as Experience or History.

I also feel that community service is incredibly valuable, and can be listed on a resume with pride. I'm outraged by McCain's running mate, Sara Palin, sneering at Obama's work as a communitiy organizer. (I realize Obama was paid for his work but it still falls under the category of nonprofit work.) Palin should be ashamed of discounting the value of community experience and leadership. By putting it on his resume. Obama made a difference as to how I'm casting my vote! Likewise, your ocmmunity work might make a difference in how an employer makes his selection for a new employee.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to all who wrote here! And I ditto Ms. Ireland's comments about Sen. Obama. Community organizing and service are what makes democracy work. Also, thanks to Ms. Ireland's comment about changing the heading to "Experience", so there is no misleading people. And I do have people I do "pro bono" work (thanks, Ask A Manager for that ditty; I feel like a high priced, do-gooder lawyer now!) as references.

Anonymous said...

One more question to Ms. Ireland, or anyone else here:

I have the heading "Professional Experience" on my resume. Is it okay to list the substantive pro bono work I do under this? Or should I just say "Experience"? Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I have done the same level and type of work for folks who have paid market rate, paid severely under market rate (I've since fired *them*), and paid no money at all because it was pro-bono.

It all counts, though, as my professional work. And you can be darn sure I'm putting it all on my resume! Right on, AAM.

Alison said...

Anonymous: I absolutely would list the technical forums you moderate! In addition to making you something of an expert, it demonstrates a passion for and involvement in your area that will look really good to employers.

Susan: I agree with you -- the McCain/Palin sneering at community organizers was insulting, obnoxious, and really out of touch. Something is very wrong with their mindset.

Anonymous said...

Everyone, thank you so much for this valuable feedback. I lost my job April '09 and so have had no leads for a new assignment. Throughout this time, I remained an active Girl Scout leader, assisted family members with support projects and kept my ears open for new exciting opportunities. Because of your posts, I am updating my resume at this very moment to include my "pro-bono" work.