Does volunteering count as work experience?

Updated on August 2, 2023
does volunteering count as work experience

If you're looking to enhance your professional background, then you might consider volunteering. But does it count as work experience?

Volunteering is considered valuable work experience as it showcases relevant skills, initiative, and teamwork.

Employers value volunteer work, recognizing it as a credible part of a candidate's employment history background, reflecting abilities that can be applied to the desired job or industry.

As defined by the Department of Labor, volunteering is doing time of service without pay for an organization for charitable, humanitarian, or community purposes.

In other words, you are willingly working for an organization without payment so as to help others, which is a commendable thing to do. And it is something that indeed benefits you in terms of work experience and employability.

Let’s take a closer look at how volunteering can help you further your career and professional development.

Is volunteering considered a job or work?

Under most state and country labor laws, volunteering is neither classified as a job nor considered formal work.

Unlike traditional employees, those who volunteer don't have job descriptions and employment contracts with the organization they serve, and are not included on the payroll or entitled to typical employee benefits.

Volunteering is a willingly accepted role within an organization without the expectation of compensation. However, in most states and countries, it is under the radar of the local governing bodies so there are usually some rules attached to it.

Volunteers, like all people, members of the public, have rights. Therefore are protected by all local laws, such as Health & Safety, and those against harassment and exploitation.

If you consider volunteering for an organization, make sure to check what your local laws and regulations say about this activity and what your rights are.

And don't forget that you can acquire work experience through an internship as well.

Does volunteering increase employability?

Does volunteering increase employability

Volunteering increases employability, no matter where it took place and under what circumstances.

It is a valuable asset, especially if the job applicant has no previous work experience.

Valued skills from volunteering experiences

Volunteering can enhance your soft and professional skills in multiple ways, depending on the nature of the work that you are doing.

Here are a few examples of professional skills that you can acquire or improve during volunteer work for various organizations.

  • Communication and negotiation skills
  • Leadership and teamwork
  • Critical thinking and problem-solving
  • Project development and management
  • Planning and time management
  • Public (customer) service
  • Language practice
  • Research skills

But the fact that you don't have previous work experience doesn't mean that you can't apply for some jobs.

Can you use volunteer work as a reference?

If you have volunteered before and you are about to apply for a job, you might be wondering – does volunteer work look good on a resume?

I definitely urge you to use your volunteer work as a reference in your resume. You can contact the organization that you volunteered for and ask them for a written statement about the work that you did for them and your qualities.

It would be best if you can directly speak to the person who was in charge of you. Hopefully, they were happy to have you as a volunteer and appreciated the work that you did.

I am sure that they will be willing to spare a moment a write a few good words about you. On another note, have you considered applying for a seasonal job since they usually have low entry requirements?

What counts as volunteer work on a resume?

Businessman and resume.

Pretty much any type of volunteering that you have done, be it for school or for some other organization, counts as volunteer work on your resume.

But should you put volunteer work on your resume if it is not relevant to the position you are applying for? Absolutely!

The purpose of including volunteer work on your resume, be it relevant or not, is to show your potential employer that you are a reliable person who can carry out preestablished duties within a work environment. So you can include anything that fits this category.

If there is a particular organization that you want to join, then here is how you can approach them through email.

How to include volunteer work on a resume

You can include volunteer work on your resume any way you see fit. There are no special rules or requirements about volunteer experience on a resume.

Even though volunteer work is not “official work experience” it is still relevant work-related experience so you can list it there without worries.

It all depends on the particular template that you have chosen for your resume. Some have designated sections where you can mention volunteer work or any other types of “out of work” activities such as organizing a book club for example.

So don’t worry about where to put volunteer experience on your resume. You’ll be just fine as long as you mention it somewhere.

Still, if your volunteer work experience is highly relevant to the position you are applying for, don’t be afraid to list it under work experience.

No HR professional or manager will look at your resume and be like “Hey, this is not listed under the correct category, we can’t hire this person!”

After you send your resume, you might get a phone call from a recruiter – find out about the signs that your phone screening went well here.

How to document volunteering experience

Effectively documenting your volunteering experience is crucial for showcasing the skills and knowledge you've gained to potential employers, academic institutions, or other organizations. Follow these tips to ensure your volunteer work is accurately and professionally presented:

1. Maintain a record of your volunteer work

Keep track of the organizations you've volunteered with, the duration of your involvement, and your specific roles and responsibilities.

This information will be useful when updating your resume or discussing your experiences in interviews.

2. Create a dedicated volunteer experience section on your resume

If you have extensive volunteering experience or if it's highly relevant to the job you're applying for, consider creating a separate section for volunteer work on your resume.

List your experiences in reverse chronological order, similar to how you would present your professional work experience.

3. Describe your responsibilities and achievements

For each volunteering opportunity, provide a brief description of your role and responsibilities. Focus on specific tasks or projects you were involved in and the impact you made.

Use action verbs and quantify your achievements when possible (e.g., "Led a team of 10 volunteers in organizing a fundraising event that raised $5,000 for the organization").

4. Highlight transferable skills

Emphasize the skills you've developed through your volunteer work that are relevant to the job or opportunity you're pursuing.

Common transferable skills gained from volunteering include leadership, teamwork, communication, problem-solving, and adaptability.

5. Include any relevant certifications or training

If you've completed any training courses or earned certifications related to your volunteer work, make sure to mention them on your resume or in your application.

This could include first aid certification, project management training, or other industry-specific qualifications.

6. Request letters of recommendation

If you've built a strong relationship with supervisors or colleagues at the organizations you've volunteered with, consider asking them for letters of recommendation.

These endorsements can provide additional insight into your skills, work ethic, and commitment to volunteering.

7. Showcase your volunteer work on LinkedIn

In addition to your resume, make sure to include your volunteering experience on your LinkedIn profile.

This can help expand your network and demonstrate your commitment to community service to potential employers and connections.

8. Prepare for job interviews

Be ready to discuss your volunteer work during interviews, focusing on specific experiences, challenges, and accomplishments.

This will help you demonstrate how your volunteering experience has contributed to your personal and professional development.

9. Document your experiences through photos or videos

Visual documentation of your volunteer work can be useful for creating a portfolio or sharing on social media.

This can help raise awareness about the causes you're passionate about and showcase your involvement to potential employers or connections.

10. Reflect on your volunteer experiences

Regularly assess the skills and knowledge you've gained from your volunteering opportunities. This self-reflection will help you identify areas for growth and ensure you're making the most of your volunteer experiences for personal and professional development.

Types of volunteering opportunities in the USA

Types of volunteering opportunities in the USA

Volunteering is an excellent way to give back to the community, develop new skills, and make a positive impact on the lives of others. The United States offers a wide range of volunteering opportunities that cater to different interests, skills, and availability.

1. Environmental Conservation

Environmental conservation volunteering opportunities focus on protecting and preserving natural habitats, wildlife, and ecosystems.

These projects can involve tasks such as planting trees, cleaning up beaches and parks, monitoring wildlife, and maintaining trails.

Organizations such as The Nature Conservancy, National Park Service, and Sierra Club provide numerous opportunities for volunteers to get involved in environmental conservation initiatives across the country.

2. Disaster Relief and Emergency Response

Natural disasters and emergencies can strike at any time, and volunteers play a vital role in providing support and assistance to affected communities.

Disaster relief volunteering opportunities may include participating in search and rescue missions, providing first aid, distributing food and supplies, and helping with rebuilding efforts.

The American Red Cross and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) are two prominent organizations that rely on volunteers during disaster relief operations.

3. Education and Tutoring

Education-focused volunteering opportunities aim to support students' academic success and personal growth. Volunteers can tutor students in various subjects, mentor at-risk youth, or assist in after-school programs.

Opportunities can be found through organizations like Teach for America, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, and local schools or community centers.

4. Health and Wellness

Health and wellness volunteering opportunities focus on promoting well-being and providing support to individuals experiencing health challenges.

Volunteers can work in hospitals, hospices, or community health centers, providing companionship to patients, assisting with health education initiatives, or supporting fundraising events.

Organizations such as the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, and local healthcare facilities offer various opportunities to get involved in health and wellness projects.

5. Animal Welfare

Animal welfare volunteering opportunities allow volunteers to work directly with animals or support organizations dedicated to their protection and care.

These opportunities can include working at animal shelters, wildlife rehabilitation centers, or participating in animal rescue efforts.

The Humane Society of the United States, Best Friends Animal Society, and local animal shelters are excellent places to find animal welfare volunteering opportunities.

6. Homelessness and Housing

Volunteering to address homelessness and housing issues involves providing support to individuals and families experiencing homelessness or working to create affordable housing solutions.

Volunteers can serve meals at homeless shelters, participate in building projects with organizations like Habitat for Humanity, or support transitional housing programs.

Many local non-profit organizations focus on addressing homelessness and housing issues, providing ample opportunities to get involved.

7. Senior Care and Support

Senior care volunteering opportunities focus on enhancing the quality of life for older adults.

Volunteers can visit nursing homes or assisted living facilities, provide companionship, lead activities, or assist with transportation needs.

Organizations such as Meals on Wheels, AARP, and local senior centers offer various opportunities to support older adults in the community.

My experience volunteering and gaining work experience

Over ten years ago, I was working at a small startup, eager to develop my career and gain the work experience needed to thrive in the competitive tech industry.

During that time, I found myself drawn to volunteering at a local charity organization.

Little did I know that this decision would play a crucial role in my journey to becoming an experienced project manager at an international tech company.

While working at the startup, I was committed to building my transferable skills and industry exposure.

My passion for community service and social responsibility led me to volunteer for a small charity organization in my free time.

The opportunity to contribute to a cause close to my heart while simultaneously developing valuable leadership skills was a win-win situation.

As a volunteer, I was actively involved in organizing events, managing budgets, and coordinating with various stakeholders.

This hands-on experience allowed me to develop strong communication, problem-solving, and time-management skills.

It also opened up networking opportunities, as I got to know other professionals in the field who were also passionate about giving back to the community.

Over time, I began to realize that my volunteering experience was filling some critical gaps in my employment history.

Meanwhile, the startup I was working for couldn't offer me the breadth of experience or scope of responsibilities that my volunteer role provided.

The skills I acquired while volunteering eventually became integral to my career development.

When the opportunity arose to apply for a project manager position at a prestigious international tech company, I knew I had to make the most of my unique background.

I carefully crafted my resume, incorporating the skills and expertise gained from both my professional and volunteer work experience.

I highlighted my leadership and teamwork abilities, adaptability, and initiative, all of which I had honed during my time as a volunteer.

My resume caught the attention of the hiring manager, who was impressed with my commitment to community service and the diverse skill set I had acquired through my volunteering experiences.

In the interview, I was able to discuss specific projects I had managed and the challenges I had overcome while volunteering.

This demonstrated my ability to apply my skills in real-world situations and showcase my readiness to take on the role of a project manager.

Looking back, I can confidently say that volunteering at the local charity organization played a pivotal role in my career change from a small startup to an international tech company.

It provided me with the work experience, skills, and networking opportunities that made all the difference in my professional journey.

Volunteering not only enriched my life but also opened doors to a fulfilling and successful career as a project manager.

Frequently asked questions about volunteering for work experience

Are there any limitations to using volunteering as work experience?

Yes, there are limitations to using volunteering as work experience. It may not always be a direct substitute for paid work experience, particularly if the volunteer role is not closely related to the desired job or if an employer specifically requires professional experience. Additionally, some industries or roles may place more importance on formal education or certifications.

Can volunteering help me transition to a new career?

Absolutely! Volunteering can be an effective way to gain experience in a new field or industry, showcasing your adaptability and commitment to learning. It allows you to develop relevant skills, network with professionals, and demonstrate your interest in the new career path.

How do I highlight my skills gained from volunteering?

To highlight your skills from volunteering, include your volunteer experience on your resume in a dedicated section or alongside your professional work experience. Describe your responsibilities, achievements, and any specific projects you were involved in. Focus on the transferable skills you developed, such as leadership, teamwork, communication, and problem-solving, and tailor your resume to emphasize the skills most relevant to the job you're applying for.

Written by:
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co-founder / office worker
Alex has been an office worker for more than 10 years. He is dedicated to helping other office workers to achieve the perfect life-work balance through well-being, effective communication, and building productive habits.

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