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Why volunteering will help your CV stand out

Running through a CV recently, a manager commented on the extent of work experience listed by an applicant who appeared to have flitted in and out of ten jobs over a period of two years. "It looks like this person has no problem with wanting to work," the manager said. A glass-half-empty reaction could be: "It could also mean she's flaky and has no staying power."

Reading further down the CV, she had listed volunteering at a food bank for a year. This changed the entire perception of who this person was. Job-hopping is one thing - it's something Millennials tend to do - but contributing to society in a consistent manner, showed the applicant was perhaps still looking for her own niche in life when it came to work. It indicated she must have picked up some organisational skills, teamwork values and interaction with the public. But most of all it signified a level of commitment not shown by her actual work experience.

Volunteering is very underrated by job applicants when it comes to their CVs, which is strange when it comes to a generation obsessed with social justice issues. Managers, according to studies, tend to rate volunteering more than the candidates themselves, which would appear to indicate that organisations need to do more to signal its relevance to potential talent. Perhaps the word 'volunteering' is not trendy enough and it needs a change to something like 'social initiative experience' with the acronym SIE for effect.

Seriously though, young people might not realise the importance those in leadership place on character and they may believe what they do in their spare time isn't relevant to the work they're seeking. They could not be more wrong. Volunteering at all, even if it doesn't work out for whatever reason, is commendable as and of itself because it means the thought and intent to contribute something is already inherent.

Some things to bear in mind

  • Volunteering experience makes your CV stand out
  • Volunteering is not separate from work experience. Experience of working in any sense is work experience period.
  • After qualifications where they are absolutely necessary, employers look for work experience above such things as taking part in workshops and extra courses
  • Employers want to learn what kind of person they might be hiring, whether they will be a good fit for the culture
  • Volunteering shows and applicant does not shy away from hard work, especially if they're doing it without compulsion
  • It shows in many cases such as volunteering at dog shelters that you are literally not afraid to get your hands dirty
  • Volunteering shows you have a social conscience, and organisations today want to show they also have a social conscience
  • It helps give you confidence and helps your own personal growth, which means having plenty to offer an organisation and being less frightened of entering a new and unfamiliar space
  • It helps prepare you for real life outside the college bubble and shows you're willing to go above and beyond
  • Volunteering helps hone your interpersonal skills, teaches you teamwork, communication, initiative and often leadership
  • It helps show an employer that you have commitment and staying power and a willingness to learn new things
  • It literally is an indication of your best self and what is meaningful to you, and if you're only doing it to impress a prospective employer, perhaps the actual experience will help develop that social conscience
  • Who do you think a manager will hire, someone who was out of work for months and sat home all day watching TV or someone who did something meaningful for no money?
  • Volunteering expands your network of contacts and makes it easier to find a job
  • It let's you try on different experiences that can aid your choices when it comes to job hunting
  • And if you're not convinced by the arguments, let's talk facts. Some studies have shown that applicants who engage in volunteering have a one-third better chance of being hired, and that's because a whopping 80% to 90% of managers in a Deloitte survey said they would like to see volunteering listed on CVs. By contrast, only 30 per cent or so of candidates include volunteering on their resumes. Let that sink in for a minute.

An extra note to managers

In addition to what you can learn about prospective candidates from their volunteering history as outlined above which could help determine if an applicant is a good fit for your organisation, the benefits go beyond that. Corporate philanthropy is a huge deal in our social justice world. What better advertisement for your brand than to hire people who share the same goals than to have on board those who will advocate for your organisation's social agenda within their own social networks and who can help expand your reach into the community?

A word of caution

Before unleashing a flood of volunteers eager to secure an edge in the jobs market by rushing off to volunteer as the icing on the cake for their CVs, it is well to remember that volunteering itself is not a piece of cake. It does require genuine passion and commitment for a cause plus it can be hard work.

If the trend grows due to the perceived benefits for candidates, more CVs might start to show volunteering experience to the point where it becomes a meaningless gesture and hiring managers could end up back at square one in trying to figure out who they're hiring, though it would be a very cynical candidate who volunteered solely to score brownie points on a job application.

There is also a risk, as social justice becomes the new global religion of choice, where some managers might at some point come to view the absence of volunteering as a black mark against an otherwise worthy candidate. Human nature oftens tends to embrace extremes and something like that would see us heading towards a 'Brave New World' type of dystopia, and we really, really don't want to go there either.