Okay, so volunteer experience doesn’t matter nearly as much on the outside as it did on active duty. HOWEVER, if you do have volunteer experience, it helps tell the story of you to the reader. It helps build out what kind of person you are and a big part of the interview process is the hiring manager actually liking you. You’ve probably heard that often times when a hiring manager or interviewer is conflicted about a candidate, they ask themselves “would I enjoy spending a 4-hour airport layover with this person?”
There is a higher chance of them liking you if you show something productive that you’re involved in outside of work, especially if it involves a good cause. AND, it’s another opportunity for you to form a potential human connection with the interviewer rather than purely a professional connection.
Having said all that, this section is entirely optional. If you have not been active in a non-profit or some sort of volunteer related role, don’t make something up. Just leave out this section. This isn’t a common section on resumes so people aren’t expecting it.
So what exactly constitutes including this volunteer experience section?
If you refer back to the professional experience post you’ll notice I constantly reference the “so what?” or the impact of each bullet. Well, that’s the case here as well. If you volunteered every once in awhile, after you were badgered about it every day at morning formation, that’s not worth including. You want to include a volunteer section if it says something about who you are as a person. If you feel like the organization(s) you are involved in defines a part of you.
Some people have a family member with an illness or disability that motivates them to be involved in a non-profit that supports a cause associated with that illness or disability. Some people have a passion for helping others. Some people randomly get involved with an organization on a Saturday afternoon because they had nothing better to do, and 2 years later they end up being the leader in their local chapter because of their natural leadership instincts as a service member.
A good reference is the award criteria and eligibility requirements (page 49) for the MOVSM. I realize my audience here is veterans, but in case you don’t know, the MOVSM is the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal. The MOVSM is for “service members who…perform outstanding volunteer community service of a sustained, direct, and consequential nature.” Meaning, you had an impact.
If you earned the MOVSM on active duty, you more than likely are substantiated in including your efforts in the volunteer section. However, you didn’t necessarily have to have earned the MOVSM to be substantial enough in your service to include this section.
For example, in the Navy and Marines we have a non-profit called the Navy and Marine Corps Relief Society. They are a unique non-profit in that they have a local office on base at every Navy and Marine Corps base. Most non-profits don’t get an office on base since it’s federal property, but somehow the NMCRS worked a deal way back when. Anyway, each year they do what’s called the “Active Duty Fund Drive” where they collect money from everyone who is…you guessed it, on active duty. Some sorry junior officer and senior enlisted are typically selected to lead the fund drive.
Yours truly was a bored Ensign and new to NCBC Gulfport so I volunteered to be the manager for the fund drive for the base (as well as my command, public works). I ended up doing it for two years in a row since I found out how dated their donation program helped to bring their donation efforts online. As part of those efforts I worked with their HQ to show them what we did in Gulfport so they could replicate it enterprise-wide.
So basically, I was involved for 2 years and helped show them how to receive donations online and then was involved in spreading that capability across the organization. To me, that satisfied the “so what?” so I included it in my resume.
I can’t answer the “so what?” for your volunteer efforts so you’ll have to do that for yourself. But think of it this way – real estate on your resume is precious. You don’t want something on there that doesn’t help sell you to the reader. So be scrupulous with your selection as to what’s worthy of being on your resume.
How do you organize it? Easy! Just like the professional experience section. Here’s an example below using my resume.
Hey look at that, Vet Coach!
The format is exactly the same as the professional experience section. In this case, you’ll need to tell them the organization since it’s not just “US Navy” or “US Army” like it was for the entire professional experience section. But, other than that, include your title, location, and date range (month and years only).
Then, use the STAR technique for the rest. Write your mini summary of what your overall responsibilities were (the situation). Then use the bullets to talk about the task, action, and result.
As a reminder, don’t let this section get out of control. After all, the purpose of your resume is truly your professional experience and what skills and experience you can bring to an organization. Not how you spend your Sunday afternoons. But, often times, by the time you get to the interview, you’re trying to convince a handful of individuals why they should pick you. And if you can find a way to relate to them or show them that you’re a good person outside of work, that can tip the scales in your favor.
In 2019, organizations are becoming more and more focused on work life balance and looking at the whole person, rather than just professional experience. Many companies, particularly millennial led ones, have a “cause” behind their efforts. Whether it’s environmental efforts or bringing jobs to developing countries, showing you care for others and are involved in your local community can help humanize you in an otherwise professional interview environment.
Again, this section is completely optional! As you can see with mine, I haven’t been volunteering every saturday with the local humane shelter for the past 8 years and am on the board of directors. The point isn’t to show off, but rather to show what kind of person you are, if you’re willing to dedicate your time outside of work to a good cause, and if you can show that your time and efforts are making an impact.
Ultimately, you’ll have to make the call if you think you can reasonably include this section in your resume. If you do not believe you should, don’t fret! No one is ever going to ask, “where’s your volunteer experience?!”
As always, if you have any questions about this section of the resume, or anything else, feel free to hit me up at Pat@TransitionVetCoach.com. Also, subscribe to our newsletter so you get updates when we post new content! Don’t worry, I don’t sell anything so you don’t have to worry about spam.