Volunteer value

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

My passion for my 20-year career died un-mourned long ago. I have considerable education, talent and volunteer experience in my avocations, but little in my actual jobs. Do employers ever grant equal weight to volunteer experience versus paid work? How should I present myself and my accomplishments to ensure that potential employers focus more on skills gained through my life experience and less on those learned through my salaried job? What strategies will help me parlay my avocations into a vocation?


Smart move, Gypsy. You've taken a step that most unhappily employed never do; you've created venues to use your talents and experience for the betterment of charitable organizations.

Choosing this path was a far more productive route than sitting around complaining about how your employer underutilizes your gifts.

The act of doing this should speak volumes to your current and future employers. It positions you as a caring, motivated and ethical person. Good managers are looking for any hint of employees' personal values; they want to hire and promote individuals who possess strong personal characteristics like trustworthiness and integrity.

Whether their appreciation for who you are and what you've done outside the nine-to-five will carry as much weight as your traditional work roles, however, is debatable.

In terms of leveraging this experience in your current employment situation, make sure that your manager is aware of what you've been up to. Organize all of your volunteer experiences by creating a short bio detailing your responsibilities and accomplishments. Approach it just like you would when creating a resume, and steer your wording to focus on results.

If you have interest in a promotion, you'll need to sell your abilities to your manager. Find an opportune time to present a verbal version of this bio to your boss. Consider asking for a quick meeting to talk about your professional development and present your background in that setting.

Explain your desire for more responsibility and describe how your volunteer roles have given you the opportunity to develop in ways that make you a qualified candidate to take on such responsibility.

To highlight your experience for future employers, use your bio as the start of the section of your resume that highlights your volunteer experiences. This section can be lengthier and more fully described than your paid experience, but it's a somewhat risky move as it may appear to resume-scanners that you've not had much paid work experience. And that's an automatic red flag.

Some non-standard resume formats will allow for a more creative combination. But again, for some it's a red flag. So consider your options carefully. You may also wish to address your significant volunteer experience and results in a brief way in your cover letters. Good luck!

Molly Luffy, MBA is a local business coach who helps people shift from surviving to thriving at work. Have a tough work situation? E-mail your questions to molly@jobpromotionsecrets.com. All submissions are kept strictly confidential.