A CV that is polished, to the point and relevant to the job you are applying for is likely to get picked out by a busy recruiter and research by academics Christa Wilkin and Catherine Connelly suggests voluntary work is beneficial, so long as it’s relevant. This is likely to be very good news for women and men who’ve taken a career break to raise children and have spent time in unpaid roles in their wider communities. In their study, Wilkin and Connelly provided 135 professional recruiters with CVs that differed systematically in the types of experience they reported. Some contained purely paid work, others purely voluntary work and others a mixture. The researchers also recorded recruiters’ personal involvement in voluntary work to examine whether this had any bearing on their responses to how qualified each candidate appeared to be for a given role (bias basically).
The study found that CVs with a mix of voluntary and paid roles were rated more favourably than either purely paid or voluntary experience. The key seems to be relevance – relevant experience whether gained through paid or unpaid work was what the recruiters picked up on and they showed no significant preference for paid experience over voluntary when rating how qualified each candidate appeared for a given role. And happily, a recruiter’s personal level of involvement in volunteering appeared to have no effect on their views of candidate CVs so that’s one less bias to worry about when seeking your next role.
Given the insight we now have on recruiters’ perceptions of voluntary work it’s time for job-seeking mothers across the UK to shine a brighter light on their time as PTA treasurer; fundraiser for local hospice; lead organiser of NCT nearly new sales; campaigner to save a local playgroup and local canvasser for a political party – you just need to show its relevance to the job you’re applying for. These experiences should appear further up your CVs – not restricted to a brief one liner in the hobby section – as a coaching client of mine, Amy, who has been a professional fundraiser for the charity Garrison Girls for some time, knows. She used her experience to apply for a paid role in another charity and although I don’t think she quite believes it, she sounded like she was head and shoulders above the other candidates. Of course she was – she got the job. Part of Amy’s story is on the Tesco magazine website if you’d like to take a look.
A final thought on this point – if you’re savvy, you could be using voluntary roles to strengthen your CV in areas where you have little experience but that you may need to demonstrate for the next paid role you’d like to secure. It may be time to switch the kind of volunteering that you’re doing and go for a stretch. A board position perhaps?
Wilkin, C., & Connelly, C. (2012). Do I Look Like Someone Who Cares? Recruiters’ Ratings of Applicants’ Paid and Volunteer Experience International Journal of Selection and Assessment, 20 (3), 308-318 DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-2389.2012.00602.x