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How volunteer experience makes your resume stand out

Mr. Rogers once said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” 

Like most things he said, it’s 1) as comforting as a warm sweater and 2) absolutely true. As the pandemic spread across the world, helpers volunteered to deliver groceries, organize fundraising campaigns and work at vaccine centers to beat back the virus. They didn’t do it to enrich themselves; they did it because it was the right thing to do.

But they did gain valuable volunteer experience, and it deserves a place on their resumes. Hiring managers are also looking for the helpers and the unique skills they can provide in the workplace. Here are some ways volunteering makes you a better job candidate.

You’ll learn new skills and hone old ones

Volunteering is a great way to learn new skills for free. Are you interested in the legal system? Practice your soft skills and gain inside experience by becoming a volunteer advocate for children who have experienced abuse. Add your volunteer experience to your resume and highlight your communication and problem-solving skills. Or, if you’re part of the recent boom in trucking, use some of your free time to deliver life-saving blood products to local hospitals.

Using your specialized skills to help others will stand out to employers (and make Mr. Rogers proud). And if these opportunities don’t sound like a good fit for you, don’t worry—you can use services like volunteermatch.org to find the right volunteer opportunity.

Be open to possibilities

Volunteering is an opportunity to apply your skillset to a new set of challenges. Maybe you don’t think your retail experience has anything to do with healthcare, but volunteering at a triage vaccine site and using your communication and organizational skills to protect people from COVID might change your mind. This is the era of skills-based hiring, and volunteering allows you to explore how your skills can make a difference beyond your last job or even your industry.

You’ll close those resume gaps

The pandemic has changed the way we work, and resume gaps aren’t going to raise a hiring manager’s eyebrows like they once did. But if you’re able to volunteer in your downtime, you can demonstrate your work ethic and flex your professional skills by helping your community.

Add your volunteer experience to your resume, including a detailed list of the duties you performed and any concrete examples of your accomplishments. How many meals did you serve? Did the kid you tutored pass that math test? What skills did you use to get the job done? Give hiring managers specifics that can tell a story.

You’ll meet new people

“Howdy, neighbor!”

Volunteering allows us to build community with people we might not encounter otherwise, and every new connection could lead to new possibilities. You could make valuable professional contacts or even lifelong friends. The woman volunteering with you at the food drive whose hands move so fast they blur? She could teach you something about time management and organizational skills. The photographer taking photos at the volunteer animal shelter? He may take photos of your team for your office’s website in the future. Who knows? You might even meet your next boss.

You’ll get to know your community

Every call for volunteers is a sign of your community’s needs. By volunteering, you’ll learn what’s missing and how you could contribute professionally.

While volunteering to deliver groceries to elders, you might notice a shortage of home health aides in your neighborhood. If you’ve always been the nurturing sort, add that position to your job search.

Or maybe you’ll learn that local businesses need better apps to direct people to their services. Have you thought about learning the skills necessary to become a software developer?

A deeper understanding of your community will give you a deeper understanding of your role within it, regardless of where your career path leads. It turns out Mr. Rogers was giving us good career advice all along. If you want to be a good candidate, start by being a good neighbor.