Power of voluntary work on CV attractiveness

by | Jan 13, 2013 | Blog, Career, Client Stories, Jessica Chivers, Motherhood | 0 comments

BLOG_voluntary-work-300x152A 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.


7 other ways to make your CV get noticed


  1. Align your CV to the job advert: Read job descriptions thoroughly and underline key words and skills the employer is looking for. A recruiter will see countless CV’s and it is very easy to tell which ones are genuinely interested in the role and which candidates are spraying their CV to all sorts of companies. Before crafting or tweaking your CV take a separate piece of paper and make a note of the underlined words and jot down examples of where you’ve demonstrated each. Now using these examples begin to tailor your CV to closely align with what the recruiter is looking for.
  2. Speculative CVs: If you are sending your CV to an employer on spec (where no job is currently being advertised) trawl the internet for adverts for the type of role you are seeking to get clear on what skills and experiences the organisation you are targeting is likely to want. As above, do an analysis of what they are looking for and how your skills and experiences could align.
  3. Style and formatting:  Always head your CV with your name in big, bold capitals – never the letters ‘CV’ – and be clear, concise and to the point throughout. Think ‘fewer, better words’ and aim to keep it to two pages, three maximum if you have a lot of different, relevant experiences. Use headings, bullet points and an easy to read font such as Arial, Calibri or Times New Roman in 11 point – never smaller than 10. Use assertive language such as ‘achieved,’ ‘developed,’ ‘led’ and ‘motivated’ and remember to check your spelling.
  4. Make the most of your skills: If you list any skills such as problem solving, communication skills, negotiating skills, you must be able to back them up with examples of when you have demonstrated them. Remember you don’t have to just draw on your work experience, think about skills you have gained from home life, education and interests that may be transferable to the workplace.
  5. Fill the gaps: a good recruiter will pull you up on gaps and question what you were doing over these periods of time. I can think of several mums who’ve included the voluntary work (running the local playgroup  for example which might include organising help rotas, planning activities, managing a budget etc) and social media skills they’ve honed whilst on an extended maternity leave. Pitched in the right way these can demonstrate skills relevant to your would-be-employer and/or show that you’ve got drive and desire to keep developing yourself.
  6. Ask others to critique it: Your CV is the key to getting an interview so it’s worth asking friends, family and even colleagues (if it is appropriate to discuss your job search with them) to critique your CV, especially if it’s been a while since you last prepared one. If you’re not a natural trumpet-blower they may notice great examples you’ve neglected to include. Even better is to give your reviewers your CV and the job advert and ask them to indicate where they think your CV could be stronger.
  7. Have interesting interests: a list of hobbies such as baking, fundraising and visiting the gym is too dull. “Since 2010 I’ve been baking cupcakes for the Alzheimer’s Society and have raised £1765 through my local farmer’s market. Next year I plan to go into local care homes and do decorating sessions with the residents” is far more interesting. Don’t lie of course, but be savvy about what you choose to say especially if you can make a link between what you enjoy and how that could benefit your potential employer. And as I said at the start – if your voluntary work is relevant include it further up your CV, not in this section.



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

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