Filling Resume Gaps – Part 2: Volunteer work

Apr 25 2012 in reCareered Blog by Phil Rosenberg

best career advice, best job search information, career advice, job search information, job search advice, job search help, job search tips, career information, career help, career tips, career info, job search infoThis is the second part of a series explaining how to fill gaps on your resume. Today, we’re going to talk about using volunteer work to fill gaps.

You’ve read it and if you’re in career transition, you’ve experienced it. It’s not right, it’s not fair, but it is the harsh reality of today’s job market. Employers discriminate against the unemployed, because work gaps represent risk, including:

  • Risk that you haven’t kept your skills sharp
  • Risk that others have felt you’re not a good candidate
  • Risk that you really don’t want to work
  • Risk that you’ve been in jail – yes, recruiters/HR reps really do screen for this

So what do you do about resume gaps?

Why not fill them?

For many of you, that’s easier said than done, because no one’s taught you effective ways to fill resume gaps that are both truthful as well as attractive to employers.

Volunteer work is very nice thing to do … but it might not help your job search.

Many candidates rely on volunteer work as gap-fillers. Depending on the type of volunteer work you do and how you present it, volunteer work can be a great gap-filler … or irrelevant and weak.

I figure you probably want to avoid things that make your resume irrelevant and weak – so I’ll show you some ineffective ways that many try to use volunteer gap-fillers but also point out ways to present volunteer experience that work well.

Examples of volunteer work that might not help your job search:

These examples fill the gap … they just don’t fill it with information that helps you very much. Sure, you can show that you were serving soup instead of jail time, but you’ll have a tough time demonstrating that the following examples are relevant to your targeted job.

  • Unrelated: If you’re trying to get a job in manufacturing, it won’t be much help to list your volunteer work as your kid’s homeroom Mom, baseball coach, or scout leader. While this type of experience might be relevant if you’re searching for a job where you work with kids, using these to show you’ve kept your management skills sharp won’t look credible. Sure, you managed people … but these were kids, not adults.
  • Out of date tools: Many volunteer organizations aren’t as well funded as private companies, so they’re less likely to use up-to-date tools. Listing that you developed software in BASIC for your favorite local charity won’t carry much weight if you’re looking for a job as a Ruby programmer.
  • Size/Scope: Size matters – While listing that you were a board member of your condo association shows that you can work with difficult people, don’t expect that this will impress mid-large employers that you’ve kept your management skills sharp. Mid-large sized employers can clearly recognize the huge difference between working with a group of 5 people vs managing a department with hundreds of employees.

Instead, seek out these types of volunteer opportunities that can strengthen your resume while also filling your gap:

  • Relevant to your job goal: If you’re looking for a job as a customer service rep, volunteer as a customer service rep. While your church probably doesn’t use customer service reps, many non-profits will, including United Way, American Cancer Society, and the YMCA. This doesn’t have to be a full 40 hours a week, leaving you time to job search. This doesn’t mean you can’t also coach your kid’s t-ball team, volunteer for your church or donate time to a soup kitchen. Depending on the volunteer work experience you want, you might even have the chance to volunteer remotely from home.
  • Relevant to your industry: It may not be as emotionally rewarding as working for your church, but volunteering for an industry organization can put you in the same circles as the main movers and shakers of your industry. Volunteering for industry trade organizations can help improve your personal brand as an industry leader, gives you access to contact lists, inside information, networking hubs and some of the best contacts within your industry.
  • Using the same or improved tools: If you’re an accountant with SAP skills, why water down your brand by volunteering for an organization running QuickBooks? Instead, find an volunteer organization running SAP, or whatever accounting system you’ve worked on. This can be even more effective if you’re trying to upgrade your skills: If all your experience is on older Maccola systems but you see that the majority of positions look for Great Plains … volunteer with an organization on Great Plains.
  • Gaining new, in-demand skills: If you’re a direct mail marketer, trying to get a job in the hot area of social media, you’ve likely run into a dilemma – companies won’t hire you without specific experience in social media. Gaining volunteer experience with an organization that is already active in social media can give you deeper domain expertise in specific technologies. On the other hand, setting up a small organization’s early social media efforts can be great experience if you want to implement a company’s first social media campaigns.
  • Hopefully, you can better see that not all volunteer experience is created equal. Some experience may help you if you’re looking for certain jobs, but may hurt if you’re looking for work where your volunteer gig isn’t relevant.

    If you’re serious about landing a new job, your volunteer work isn’t just about giving back to the community. If you’re not also seeking out volunteer work that also helps your career, you miss out on an important opportunity to show your skills are still razor sharp, relevant … and maybe even improved.

    Readers, please comment: What types of volunteer opportunities are you working on and how are they relevant to your job goals?


    Want to do more than just complain about a bad economy?

    To attend our next complimentary live webinar featuring action items to double your resume response rate and number of interviews, plus live career Q&A with Phil Rosenberg of reCareered, register at .

    Available Now On Amazon: Job Search Secrets - Rethink Your Job Search Now, By Phil Rosenberg

    Phil shows you why your current job search strategies work against you and how to replace them with strategies that improve your odds. Phil provides you with research - cold, hard statistics provided by job boards and hiring managers themselves, to show you what works for you and against you in the worst job market in our lifetimes.

    Download Job Search Secrets on Amazon

    Join our mailing list for newsletters, announcements of complimentary upcoming webinars and other job search resources. Sign up at

    For access to more information:
    Connect to Phil Rosenberg on Linkedin:
    Follow reCareered on Linkedin:
    Like reCareered on Facebook:
    Follow Phil Rosenberg on Google+:
    Follow reCareered on Twitter:
    Join Career Change Central on Linkedin:

    Author: Phil Rosenberg

    You might also like

    Filling Resume Gaps – Part 1: Contract, project, freelance or temp work This is the first part of a series explaining how to fill gaps on your resume. Today, we're going...
    Filling Resume Gaps: Part 7 – Blogging This is the seventh part of a series explaining how to fill gaps on your resume. Today, we're going...
    Filling Resume Gaps – Part 3: Family leave Family leave affects more than just working moms. Family leave can affect anyone with a sick or...
    Filling Resume Gaps: Part 6 – Adult Internships This is the sixth part of a series explaining how to fill gaps on your resume. Today, we're going...