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Why don't employers see the value in volunteer experience?
When it comes to evaluating job applicants, every hiring manager will have different qualities and skills that they're looking out for. They're also likely to have a good idea of the kind of experience that would provide a candidate with those skills.
But what if the skills they're looking for were acquired in an unexpected way?
CIPD, the UK-based professional body for HR and people development, has found that while volunteer experience is widely regarded as an asset for job seekers, the majority of applicants are never given the chance to highlight this experience or the skills it has given them.
This means that hiring managers may be missing out on top talent that meets their selection criteria because they're not digging deep enough into an applicant's experience. Similarly, applicants may not take the initiative to highlight their volunteer experience during the application process because of a belief that traditional work experience is more important to employers.
Yet, according to the report, 67% of employers state that entry-level candidates with social action experience have better skills in key employability traits, such as teamwork, communication and an understanding of the local community.
So why are hiring managers not looking at a candidate's volunteer experience to assess their skills and aptitude?
The first hurdle to recognising volunteer skills is that most job applications these days are vetted by a machine before a human. Resume-scanning technology, used by many larger companies and recruitment firms, help hiring managers sort through mountains of resumes by picking up keywords that match the job description. Candidates whose applications are a match will then be forwarded to the hiring manager for review. Unless a candidate has described their volunteer experience in a way that relates to the job description, it is unlikely to be factored in.
When it comes to the interview, a hiring manager is trying to get a view of your most relevant experience in a short amount of time. It's understandable that they're focused on your work experience, because they want to understand how you perform as an employee. Whether it's fair or not, some hiring managers may not give as much weight to volunteering experience as they would paid employment, so the onus is on the employee to highlight their relevant experience, however it was gleaned.
Structuring your resume with a view to highlighting your volunteering experience can also be helpful. Don't bury this experience in your "Activities and Interests" section right at the end; instead, create a section right at the top that highlights your key skills and achievements as relevant to the position and be very clear about how your volunteering work has provided you with experience that will directly assist you in succeeding in the position.
Any reasonable hiring manager just wants to hear that you have the experience, skills and attitude they're looking for, but it's up to the candidate to ensure they bring this to light in a meaningful and relevant way.
If you're a candidate with relevant volunteering experience, here's how to ensure it is recognised by a potential employer:
- Structure your resume to highlight this experience and why it's relevant - don't bury your volunteer work at the end under 'Activities and Interests'
- Describe your experience in a way that relates directly to the job description.
- During an interview, make a point of mentioning your volunteer experience and help the interviewer understand how it is relevant