Looking for a job? Then you’ve likely been cleaning up your resume, making more space to describe the accomplishments you’ve reached in each of your positions of employment. If you ran out of room, trying to keep your CV to a reasonable length, you probably kept a couple of lines for your degrees and axed the volunteer work you’ve done. In this job market, you might worry, all those hours spent volunteering for a local pet shelter could look like someone with too much time on their hands.
But maybe you shouldn’t. The results of a new study from researchers at California State University and McMaster University, highlighted recently on the British Psychological Society’s blog, suggests that recruiters do not necessarily rate applicants with paid experience as more attractive than those with volunteer experience. The key, rather, is how relevant either set of work is to the job for which they’re applying.
To complete their study, the researchers gave 135 recruiters eight different resumes to evaluate. Two of the resumes were composed of all paid jobs, with one being very relevant to the open position and one being irrelevant. Two were composed of all volunteer experience, again with one being highly relevant and the other not. The remaining four were composed of a combination of paid and volunteer work, with varying levels of relevance.
Interestingly, the results showed that recruiters did not find paid experience to be more attractive than volunteer experience in general. There was no significant difference in how the resumes with nothing but paid jobs compared with those that had only volunteering backgrounds. Still, recruiters most liked to see a combination of both.
The top-rated resumes were the ones that had both relevant paid and relevant volunteer experience. That was followed by those that had both relevant paid experience and unrelated volunteer work. The resumes that emphasized only the candidate’s related paid employment and showed no volunteer work at all were less well received.
So, if you’re doing something these days to give back, don’t forget to include it on your resume. We may believe—especially in a tough economy with still-high levels of unemployment—that employers only want to see the sales targets we’ve hit, the new clients we’ve brought in, or the size of the budgets or teams that we’ve managed.
However, they apparently also want to hear about applicable decisions we’ve made on nonprofit boards, funds we’ve raised for local causes or events we’ve organized that show off our organizational skills. For once, at least, relevance matters more than money.
Jena McGregor is a columnist for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.
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