Volunteering is beneficial in many different ways, but a common problem for volunteers is how to best showcase the skills that they’ve gained from it. We spoke to Melissa Mitchell, founder of VOLO Group, an online company devoted to creating social impact through volunteering, to get an expert’s viewpoint.
Why is volunteering important?
“Volunteering is a great way to develop important soft skills such as initiative, leadership, communication and teamwork. It can be even more valuable than traditional internships.
While internships provide a great introduction to the working environment and business policies and procedures, they are usually quite structured and leave less opportunity to take on initiative and demonstrate high added value to a company. Nonprofit organisations on the other hand, can be so resourced constrained that volunteers have the ability to take on more responsibility and make a huge impact through achieving actual results for the organisation.
Despite this, recruiters currently value internships over voluntary work because there is a level of validation around the work that has been completed. With trusted companies standing behind your abilities and ensuring a basic level of training, this provides more assurance to recruiters who receive high volumes of graduate applications and have to quickly differentiate between candidates.
“Volunteering is a great way to develop important soft skills such as initiative, leadership, communication and teamwork.”
Additionally, although many graduate opportunities list soft skills as important requirements for many roles, it has recently been reported that students are not adequately prepared with these skills upon leaving university. As a result, added pressure is now being put on universities to create programmes around developing soft skills. I believe that well-structured student volunteering programmes could aid in addressing this issue, while at the same time adding much needed support to the Third Sector.”
How can volunteering set someone apart when applying for jobs?
“Over the past seven years, I’ve done a lot of graduate hiring, and at this level, differentiation between candidates can be very difficult. Entry-level experience tends to be limited in scope and responsibility and can come across as nondescript. So when a candidate highlights their volunteer work in a way that quantifies not only how they made a difference in the community, but also how they added value to an organisation, this makes me want to speak with them.
Volunteering can definitely make you stand out to recruiters. At the end of the day, recruiters are people and they can be touched by a meaningful personal story of volunteering, which can make them curious to learn more about you. When I read that someone has organised or led a group that made visible impact through volunteering, or that they’ve taken part in a programme that helped individuals in their community – that’s really interesting! I want to talk to them and find out more about what they did there. That type of impact can be so much more interesting to hear about than what someone did in an internship where they didn’t have any specific responsibility. If you leave the interviewer thinking ‘WOW I wish I’d done something like that at their age’, that can be very powerful. It can leave them with the impression that you are the kind of person that they’d want to see around the office and that can make a difference in their company.
“At the end of the day, recruiters are people and they can be touched by a meaningful personal story of volunteering.”
Volunteering also helps develop important soft skills that have long-term applicability to your career. Soft skills become more essential as you progress into upper levels of a company. In a management role, for instance, the bulk of your day-to-day work is achieved through using soft skills. People who come into an organisation with a strong soft skill base will need less training to move into a leadership role and therefore have the ability to progress more quickly through a company. That’s definitely something that is in the back of the mind of the recruiter. ‘How long is this person going to stay with us? How are they going to progress here?’
Volunteering can also say a lot about the values of a candidate and can help a recruiter evaluate if you’ll have a good ‘culture fit’ within their company. This is another important indicator as to how long an individual will stay in the company and that’s really important.”
How can I showcase the skills I’ve gained from volunteering on my CV?
“The key is to highlight how you’ve added value in the volunteering role and quantify the impact that you made. This can be anything from raising a certain amount of money to playing a leading role in an outreach project. Include concrete facts and figures around the impact you made and make sure the recruiter can easily deduce how this experience will help you succeed in the role that you are applying for. If you simply state which charities you’ve worked with and the tasks that you carried out, it won’t mean much to the employer. This is mainly because people can complete the same volunteering activity but ‘add value’ in very different ways, so it’s essential to highlight your individual input and impact.
“The key is to highlight how you’ve added value in the volunteering role and quantify the impact that you made.”
If you’ve done a lot of volunteering, it will be very difficult to present the value you’ve added in each of these instances within the one page limitation of your CV. It’s crucial to highlight the key volunteering experiences that are relevant to the role for which you are applying, however by omitting all the other great work you’ve done, you can put yourself at a disadvantage.
There have been so many times when I’ve gotten into an interview with a candidate and they’ve told me about some amazing volunteer work they did that wasn’t listed on their CV. It makes me wonder how many people with similar valuable experiences didn’t make it to the interview stage, because they hadn’t included it on their CV. It’s hard to know what will resonate with the recruiter, so it’s good to capture all of that information somewhere.
VOLO can provide a great solution to making sure you don’t leave out an important experience that the recruiter might value. VOLO allows you to showcase all the skills that you’ve gained and the value that you’ve added while volunteering without taking up a lot of space on your CV. By adding one line to your CV, a link to your VOLO profile, you can easily give recruiters a clear overview of the volunteer work you’ve done and the skills you’ve gained. The platform lists your experiences by soft skills developed and allows you to quantify the value you added in the role if the recruiter wants to know more. This helps to ensure that you won’t miss out on a great opportunity to highlight your skills.”
How would you showcase the skills gained from volunteering in a charity shop?
“Well it’s customer service isn’t it? In any role that you have customer service and sales are hugely important because it’s also the way you communicate with both colleagues and clients. Employers want to know that you have those qualities.
A lot of times I see on student CVs that they’ve worked in a bar. I actually value that a lot because I know that they can communicate with people really well and they can manage a lot of tasks coming at them at once. So there’s a lot of value in that and it’s the same working in a charity shop. It’s just a question of knowing how to show that.
For me, try and put numbers behind it too. If you increased efficiency, say by what percent if you can. If you designed a new process that increased sales, describe that. If you worked on an advertising campaign that brought in more donations or customers, talk about that. You can also tell them how many hours you do.
Tell them how you’re adding value. And if you’re not adding value, start doing it! And give yourself credit.”
VOLO is an online platform aimed at enhancing collaboration for social progress. It lets you track your volunteering activities along with the skills you develop from them, seamlessly integrating the data into your CV and LinkedIn profile.