Skills & experience, unpaid, are still skills & experience

“A few of our volunteers have been listing their experience with us on their résumés, as though this was paid work, so we’ve asked them to stop doing that.”

She said this to me with a look of I’m sure you understand. I didn’t.

“You mean they listed their role at your organization, the name of your organization, the list of their responsibilities and their accomplishments at your organization?” I asked.

“Yes!” she said, “As though it was a job!”

And I said, “Why is that a problem?”

She said, “Because they were just volunteers! You don’t list that on your résumé!”


As I said in a previous blog, a marketing director is defined by the scope of his or her responsibilities – not a pay rate. Paid or not, you call such a person a marketing director. An executive director is defined by the scope of his or her responsibilities – not a pay rate. Paid or not, you call such a person an executive director.

If a person has a role at your organization, with a title and responsibilities, and that person has met goals / accomplished things as a result of his or her work at your organization, paid or unpaid, that person has EVERY right to put that experience on his or her résumé! The person should also say if the role was part-time (5 hours a week? 10? 20?) and to whom he or she reports/reported (the marketing director? the executive director? the manager of volunteers?). You should do all that for PAID jobs as well.

Should the person say if the role is paid or unpaid on his or her résumé? I keep trying to imagine a scenario where a person should, absolutely, say he or she was/is a volunteer in that role on his or her résumé, and I cannot think of one. Certainly if you are asked how much you were paid for each job, and you are filling out that information for each job, you should be just as transparent, and write $0.

And maybe you want to brag about having been a volunteer, specifically. I was just an employee of the United Nations Volunteers, I never had the honor of serving as a UN Volunteer – I was merely an employee who supported UNVs in the field (I really did say this when I worked at UNV, and it was hilarious to see the reactions from paid staff who worked so hard to tell people, “Oh, no, I’m an employee, I’m not a volunteer!”). If I did have the honor of serving as a UNV, I would make absolutely SURE it was clear on my CV that, indeed, I’d made the cut and been an actual UNV. Of course, that’s my way of thinking – by contrast, a lot of UNVs list their field work title on their CVs (Youth Program Director, HIV/AIDS Community Educator, etc.) and that their employer was UNDP, rather than UNV, to distance themselves as much as possible from the term volunteer – sad, but true.

When I am an employer, I look at experience, skills, training and accomplishments, period. I don’t care if the candidate did anything as a paid employee, a paid contractor or an unpaid volunteer – I want to see what they’ve done and what they can do. Whether they were paid to do it or not is irrelavent to me.

And you?

Also see:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *