Dear Sam: I would like to change careers and was curious how I could have my volunteer experience be seen as actual work experience. For the past 9 years, I have been a financial counselor at a local hospital, but I have also done a lot of volunteer community work for such organizations as Big Brothers Big Sisters, Susan G. Komen, American Heart Association, YWCA, and others. I have also served as the activity planner for my current employer within my department. I would just love to transition into the nonprofit fundraising, event planning, and/or outreach field. I have completed some sociology courses, but graduated with a degree in English. Can you provide me with some suggestions on how I could put my volunteer experience to work for me? Thanks! – Cindy
Dear Cindy: This is such a great question, and one I am asked frequently when I attend job fairs. It seems that, in this day and age, more people want to make a difference in their lives through service to others. One of the key ways you can make volunteer experience look more like professional experience is to treat it in the same manner you would your paid positions. By that, I mean include your volunteer experience with the same vigor you would your professional experience. Let me walk you through how you would organize your resume to better position yourself for a career change.
First, open your resume with a “Qualifications Summary” which focuses on your related experience from your professional and volunteer career. In the summary, include highlights of your outreach efforts, committee coordination, event planning, fundraising, and other related experience and skills.
Second, I would present a “Selected Highlights” section which would focus on your most related experience. In this section, include highlights from your experience planning events, coordinating fundraising campaigns, serving as a mentor, training volunteers, chairing outreach committees, etc. This section would serve to answer the question of how you are qualified for what you are positioning yourself as. I would expect this section would include 5-7 bullet points going into greater detail—the “Qualifications Summary” introduces, and this section explores—about the most related aspects of your qualifications.
Third, present your “Professional Experience” section going back through about 8-10 years of your experience. This would mean omitting one or both of your earliest experiences, the first of which was very short-term and the second which probably doesn’t relate at all to your current career interests unless the organization you are pursuing working with deals with a younger (i.e., pediatric) population.
Fourth, present a fully developed “Community Involvement” section that mimics the style of the previous “Professional Experience” section. I would advise you to reorder these sections if you have enough to highlight from your volunteer roles. If so, you could lead with this section (followed by your “Professional Experience” section) and instead call it “Nonprofit Experience” or something akin to the field you want to pursue most (i.e., event planning, outreach, fundraising, etc.).
Taking charge of the positioning on and prioritization of your resume can sometimes be all that is needed to make your audience see what you want them to see first. There really are very few “rules” in resume writing, so don’t be afraid to create a marketing tool that positions you in the most beneficial manner based on your career target. Best of luck to you!