September 3, 2010

Resume Tips for Volunteers

Let’s say you’ve had a great volunteer abroad experience, helping people, cleaning up communities and encouraging development.

The experience is no doubt formative, and worthwhile in and of itself. You’re back in the States and ready to tackle the job market with your new skill set and passion.

How do you translate your volunteer abroad experience into a job?

This can be tricky, since there are many tasks and roles that you may have played with your overseas volunteer organization that may not translate exactly into a resume format for an office or 9-to-5 job. Here are some tips to help you boost your resume with a volunteer experience, beyond simply impressing your potential boss with a trip abroad!

1) Read the job description carefully.

The best resumes and cover letters are those which explicitly address the roles and responsibilities of the position; the goal of the resume is to show why you are right for a certain job (not just any job). But there are many qualities that all employers are looking for, and skills that can translate across many careers. For example, many jobs require someone who can “multi-task.” As a volunteer with a nonprofit organization, you were no doubt pulled in many directions during your experience and have developed the ability to juggle many tasks. It may not seem obvious if you are applying for a job in the business world, but you would be surprise at how many of these types of skills are attractive to employers.

2) Think about the big picture.

Employers want to see high impact on a resume. Whether that means and increase in sales, services or clean-up efforts. You want to present yourself as someone who has made a difference somehow. As an international volunteer, you often find yourself doing somewhat menial or repetitive tasks to meet the needs of your organization. Is it really appropriate to put “cleaned the bathroom” on your resume?

Not exactly, but what you can do is take a step back from your tasks, and think about your role. Did you free up time for the higher ups at your organization to do their jobs, thus increasing the number of people receiving services? Were you able to use a new idea to make certain systems (however trivial they might seem to you) more efficient? Were you able to shadow any of the organization leaders, and learn more about what they do on an individual level? These are the kinds of things that employers love to see.

3) Don’t rest on the word “volunteer”.

It is generally accepted that having volunteer experience will help you get a job, show your altruism and commitment to the community. But once the majority of people starting packing their resumes with anything resembling a volunteer experience, it isn’t enough to list that you were a volunteer. In fact, it may be more beneficial to you to think of what your title would be if it weren’t volunteer. Common roles for volunteers are Project Manager, Program Coordinator, Facilitator, etc. Think of a title (and check with your supervisor) that accurately describes your volunteer experience and use that on your resume in addition to the volunteer title. That way, a prospective employer can see quickly that you had a serious role within your organization, which will help you to stand out from the crowd.

Writing a winning resume can be a challenge, especially for newcomers to the job market. A volunteer experience abroad can only serve to enhance a resume, as long as you think beyond yourself and put yourself in your potential employers shoes as you include the experience.

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