Why should you list volunteer work on your resume, especially if you’ve been unemployed? Volunteer service is a solid answer to the question, “So, Steve, what have you been doing with yourself for the past six months?”

Long periods of unemployment – whether due to lay-offs or personal choice (such as staying home to raise family) – can be viewed as a negative. But as every job seeker or stay-at-home mom knows, being away from the workplace doesn’t mean you’ve been away from service.

When recruiters and hiring managers search a resume, they look for various elements. Obviously, experience and education will be a major part of their focus, but job seekers shouldn’t forget to add volunteer experience on their resumes.

Volunteer activity shows initiative, dedication, selflessness, and a desire to give back to the community. These attributes can have a great influence on recruiters, and give a resume positive attention that can make the difference in a hire.

For those interested in working for the Department of Defense, or similar federal agencies, volunteer experience within a military charity or community organization can increase credibility and knowledge of the defense culture and environment, especially if there is no previous work experience. Volunteering is also a great way to gain personal references and build a defense industry network.

How can you list volunteer service on your resume, however? Here are a few tips.

1. Make a long-term commitment.

A couple hours here and a couple hours there is great, but not the meaningful experience needed to garner a bullet on your resume. Pick one or two great organizations, and really get involved. Become a member of the board, join a team, and really dig into a role. It’s a bonus if you’re able to use your professional attributes, but not a requirement.

2. List it like a job.

If you had a serious role in a volunteer organization, list it on your resume, and include accomplishments. Did you help raise $10,000 for your local Veterans Service Organization? Super – demonstrate on your resume how you accomplished that. It takes tenacity to fund raise, and that tenacity might serve you well in your job.

3. Get a reference.

A serious issue for long-term unemployed is a lack of professional references. Your experience volunteering may help with that question. Volunteer coordinators can vouch for your dependability, work ethic, and personal character. Ask them to be references, and list them when asked.

Here is a list of organizations that work with service members and the military community. It’s far from comprehensive, however, and individuals should consider local opportunities, as well as service-specific charities and professional networking organizations:



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Diana M. Rodriguez is a native Washingtonian who works as a professional freelance writer, commentator, and blogger; as well as a public affairs, website content and social media manager for the Department of Defense.