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5 Ways College Grads Can Use Volunteer Experience to Get a Job

Finally, some good news for college grad job seekers.

Forbes recently pulled together 15 career experts and asked them to share interview tips for college grads. According to one career expert from LinkedIn, 42% of hiring managers say, “they view volunteer experience equivalent to formal work experience.” (So feel free to breathe a huge sigh of relief if you, like me, can’t afford the path of unpaid internships to build your resume after college.)

But this news is a huge win for Millennial job seekers! As a generation, we’re already civic-minded, which apparently sets us on a great path to landing a future job. But it isn’t as easy as “I volunteered in college – I’ll take one job, please!” So how can you use your experience wisely?

1. Numbers, stats and specificity will impress more than vague references.
While employers love the idea of hiring altruistic and kind people, it isn’t enough to set a candidate apart from the rest of the pack. So on your resume, list out specific actions you took that yielded specific results for your cause, along with exact numbers for the inputs (what you put into the project), outputs (what came out of your activity), and a description of the outcomes (the change in condition felt by the people or community you served). Be ready to expand on those numbers during your interview.

2. Use examples that show you can do THIS job well.

If you’re telling the same story the same way in every job interview, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Identify the core competencies the employer wants to see from an applicant and talk up those aspects of a volunteer project. Let’s say you helped execute a massive fundraising campaign on your campus. At times, you probably had to coordinate a lot of moving pieces for events. At other times, you may have had to use your communication skills to persuade people to take a certain kind of action (which is an actual prompt I have used in behavioral interviews, by the way). Figure out what skills the interviewer wants to hear about and focus your answer on those skills.

3. Seek out employers who will value your experience.

Service corps like Americorps and Teach for America, government agencies, issue campaigns, and nonprofits like us here at United Way are extremely interested in hiring applicants with relevant volunteer experience. And for-profit companies value volunteer experience, too. Every year Deloitte hosts an Alternative Spring Break with United Way where high-performing underclassmen spend a week volunteering alongside Deloitte’s young professionals and partners. Deloitte gets to see how students perform working in teams to improve lives. And students—who we know want to work for a socially responsible employer—get a chance to peek inside Deloitte’s awesome, community-focused culture. It’s a win-win, especially considering so many students from this ASB program now work for Deloitte.

4. Use your volunteer opportunities as a chance to network.

It’s a fact of life: landing your dream job can sometimes boil down to who you know. Hiring managers are pressed for time, often reviewing hundreds of resumes. So when you meet people, leave a positive lasting impression on them. It may help ensure your resume gets a second look and may lead to a foot in the door. So next time you’re volunteering, get to know the staff. See if you can interact with their executive director. Tell them you’re looking for jobs and ask if they know anyone at X, Y and Z employers. Some of the most powerful people in your community sit on the boards of local nonprofits. By volunteering, you could be stepping into a very influential network. Leverage it!

5.  Make your volunteering count.

No one will hire you if you describe your volunteering experience as, “I sat at the front desk and answered the phone one day.” With every volunteer opportunity, you have the chance to support a cause you’re passionate about, change someone’s life, grow as a leader and refine your skills. Take it seriously and give it your all!

Happy job hunting!

Hone your skills at the annual Student United Way Leadership Retreat this September. Register today!