Learn the dos and don'ts of including volunteer work on your résumé.

By Laura Vanderkam
August 17, 2014

Have you listed your charity endeavors on your résumé? If not, you probably should. A recent LinkedIn survey found that one in five employers hired someone primarily because of her volunteer service outside the office. “If you’re unemployed, this work shows you’ve been productive,” says John Challenger, the CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a Chicago-based outplacement firm. “And if you’re already employed, it supplements the experiences you’ve gained at your job.” Here’s how to put your good work to good use.

Do: List specific skill-building volunteer activities on your résumé. Substantive work, like managing the budget of a sizable charity or recruiting and training a team, is attractive to employers because those experiences are applicable to business situations, says Suzanne Lucas, a 10-year human-resources veteran based in Basel, Switzerland. But only include accomplishments that can be put into quantifiable terms or work that demonstrates your leadership qualities. (Avoid listing charitable work for which all you did was set up chairs or perform some other minor service.)

Don't: Include work with organizations that might be considered polarizing. Listing overtly political or religious groups could turn off a hiring manager who has different beliefs. (Picking one candidate over another because of such factors is illegal in many cases, but it still happens.)

Do: Let the volunteer work on your résumé speak for itself. That is to say, don’t bring it up in the interview. Why? The employers who find the service to be relevant will ask you about it. But some won’t feel that way about any unpaid work. In such cases, it’s best to stay quiet.

Don't: Emphasize volunteering that’s directly related to being a parent. Researchers have found that women who cite volunteering related to motherhood on a résumé—for example, PTA work—are less likely to be called back for interviews than are those who list a neighborhood group. So list such experience only if it’s highly related to the job that you’re seeking.