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Turn Volunteer Experience Into Work Experience

Volunteer experience can be an important element to consider when recruiting employees. Many of the skills acquired in volunteer work can be transferred successfully to paid employment. Companies can identify and recruit top talent in today’s multigenerational workforce by recruiting persons who have used volunteer experience to increase their skills and experience.

During the economic recession, the volunteering rate increased by 26.8 percent with approximately 63 million Americans volunteering through formal organizations and agencies. This resulted in more than 8.1 billion hours of service, with an estimated worth of $169 billion. Across the country, Americans volunteer in big numbers, such as in Madison, Wis., where 40 percent of the adult population is involved in volunteering. Learn more about the rates of volunteering in the state or community where you target candidates for jobs.  

The increase in volunteering is fueled by higher volunteer rates among women — in particular, women ages 45-54 — African Americans, married individuals and persons working full- or part-time. In addition, today’s volunteers have higher levels of education than in the past; many have received an associate, bachelor’s, or graduate degree. Also, they have gained experience by volunteering at all levels in organizations, including blue-collar, administrative, management and executive positions. Others have specialized skills-based volunteer experience through corporate pro bono programs that help organizations implement sound business strategies, increase their capabilities and learn best practices to improve the effectiveness of their outreach programs.  

Many of the volunteer positions have job descriptions with specific duties and responsibilities. These jobs usually require an accounting of hours worked, tasks completed, lines of supervision and performance evaluation.

According to Edward Redfern Jr., Program Manager for Workforce Issues at AARP, “Some applicants may possess unique transferable skills acquired through structured volunteer work that, when added to paid work experiences, may make them highly qualified for the job they are applying for.” However, recruiters should review this experience with the same diligence as paid work experience.”

Some volunteers without recent paid experience may not respond to traditional recruitment methods because they assume employers are not interested in recruiting them. Consequently, marketing jobs to this segment requires tailoring the message to volunteers and selecting methods of communication most likely to attract them. As a result, the content and tone of the message must communicate in a concise way the kinds of people with the qualifications you are seeking. List the jobs available, state the key benefits and explain how a person should respond. The message should convey that people with volunteer experience have something to contribute to your organization, e.g, “volunteer experience welcome.”

When reviewing applications and résumés, determine whether the candidate is a good match for the job by evaluating the volunteer job and the volunteer performance. For example:

  • Were there specific tasks assigned?
  • What were the hours of work and supervision?
  • What were the skills and competencies required for the job?
  • Was the volunteer using acquired skills and experience?
  • Did the job require additional training?
  • Was the job completed in a timely fashion?
  • Did the position have specific objectives?
  • Was it a supervisory position?


In addition, recruiters can also tap the networks that use volunteers by contacting local volunteer agencies to let them know that their companies are hiring people and volunteer experience may be applicable. Frequently these agencies have bulletin boards and newsletters in which a company can advertise its jobs.

Volunteer experience can bring value to a company. Many of the skills acquired in volunteer work can be transferred successfully to the paid workforce, and companies can identify and recruit top talent in today’s multigenerational workforce by considering persons with volunteer experience as potential employees.

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