Work is Work, Even if You Weren't Paid
"Why did you list volunteer experience under my jobs," Haley inquired. "Isn't that stretching the truth?"
"Stretching it how?" I replied. "Did you or didn't you work there?"
"Well, yes," Haley said. "But I don't want anyone to think I got paid!"
My response? What different does it make? Other than none?
People looking for work after a bout of unemployment, parents planning reentry into the job market after family leave, and recent college grads all suffer from feeling inadequate about the work they did as interns, volunteers, or on school projects. But if you have something to show for it - something that will interest an employer - why not?
The key is how you frame it. Here's an example:
Led design team to develop a combination hardware/software power electronics monitoring and teaching device in collaboration with [computer company] for countries with limited educational materials
Anand, a 2016 college grad, didn't see how I could include this on his resume - even though it's 100% truthful - because it was a group project at his university. Sounds impressive, doesn't it? (he got hired within a month because he was able to list other equally impressive experience). Did he get paid for it for that project? No. But I bet he got an A in that course.
Marianne had been out of the workplace for 7 years while raising her family. She showed me her resume with its yawning gap. Here's one of several bullets I used to fill it:
Raised $100K for epilepsy research by driving local community engagement on social media for charity event
This fit in nicely with other publicity and marketing roles she had filled prior to her family leave. Along with other volunteer projects, it filled the gap nicely.
While earning his Master's degree in Psych, Julian was a teaching assistant at his university. This experience - unpaid, of course - went on his resume. (and yes, Julian got hired by a research facility 6 weeks after receiving his M.S.
Examined emotion-cognition interactions in young adults through longitudinal electroencephalographic (EEG) study on anxiety, addiction and depression under supervision of [professor's name]
One more example, albeit an old one. I had been a stay-at-home mom, working part time outside my field. I had worked on Wall Street in the public securities industry, but left when my son was born and while I raised him and his sister (and baked umpteen cupcakes for school fairs), I got a Master's in English and taught two classes per semester at a branch of The City University of New York. But my resume showed a huge employment gap when I was ready to return to the corporate world. In preparation for my re-entry, I collected annual reports from local public companies, and rewrote sections of each one, mailing my revision to the company's Investor Relations or CFO, offering to write their next year's report. Out of the 40 I submitted, only 2 hired me. But so what? I had 40 revised annual reports in my portfolio to show employers. Gap filled.
And trust me - no interviewer EVER asked me, or any of the clients mentioned above - "did anyone pay you for that?"
Would you like some help showcasing your non-paid work for a resume that earns you interviews? I'm Lynda Spiegel, founder of Rising Star Resumes, a career coaching and resume writing service. With 15+ years’ experience as a human resources professional, I leverage my experience to help professionals in a variety of industries achieve their career goals. Bragging rights earned as a Wall Street Journal Expert Panelist. Email Lynda@risingstarresumes.net or in the U.S. or Canada call (718) 897 – 5074