As a founding partner of my firm, I always have plenty of qualified applicants to choose from when it's time to expand my workforce. Sometimes I have hundreds of resumes to choose from, and of those who make the cut and actually land an interview, many of them will have equally stellar resumes with very similar accomplishments. Invariably, I'm put in the position of having to single out the cream of the crop for interviews, and that often means cutting many well-qualified people.
How does a 4.0 GPA, graduating with honors, and a stellar work record set you apart from the pack? The sad truth is, quite often, it simply doesn't. While a solid education and strong work history are the bedrock of any good resume, they aren't good enough to stand out on their own. When looking for new hires, I add one more criteria to the list. I look for those who give back to their community through charity or volunteer work.
Our firm prioritizes charity work and community outreach. Many companies I know do the same. Community involvement at a company level is becoming more commonplace. Volunteer work shows character and demonstrates an ability to think beyond oneself and one's own accomplishments. Not only does it look great on a resume, but it helps make the world a better place for everyone -- an ambition we try to live up to every day.
So if you're looking for a way to distinguish yourself from the masses, consider giving back.
Charity Work Shows Dedication and Consistency
Putting in time with a charity that reflects your values, whether they directly correlate with your chosen career path or not, shows character that employers respect. By finding time to help with mailings, walk dogs, or help out with that bake sale, you show prospective employers that you have a dedicated interest in helping others, and that you're a team player. Even if your volunteer work is far removed from your career skill set, it will also introduce you to new people, and you never know who might be hiring. That nice lady that you worked with on the public radio fund drive may be hiring at her marketing firm.
If you are lucky enough to find a volunteer outlet that allows you to stay within your field and use skills that you would typically put in a resume, even better! That way you'll show employers that you are interested in maintaining and building your particular skill set, even if you happen to be underemployed or looking for work at the moment.
I especially look for people who volunteer on a regular and ongoing basis, not just once or twice on isolated occasions -- this shows dedication and consistency, two things that are always important in new hires.
Nonprofit Work Expands Your Skills
When sifting through the stacks of resumes for potential interviews, people who have experience working at or volunteering with a nonprofit stand out. Sitting on the board of directors or helping with a nonprofit committee is ideal, but any nonprofit experience is invaluable. Nonprofits come with their own unique challenges and obstacles, and successfully running a nonprofit takes leadership, creative thinking, and aggressive problem-solving.
Any work with a non-profit can set your resume apart from others. Working with nonprofits frequently requires employees to wear many different "hats" in their daily work, and showing that kind of versatility and flexibility is a great asset. So when I see someone who's been involved with a nonprofit, I know that not only do they have an interest in helping others and helping make the world a better place, they probably have the skills to make it in our firm.
Pro-Bono Work Expands Your Network and Reputation
If you're stalled in your current career path, but want a way to build your resume, consider doing freelance pro-bono work for an organization you believe in. I know several lawyers who have taken on cases or have been legal advisors for nonprofits and small businesses that matter to them. In the long term these efforts have the added benefit of giving them experience in an area that they may not have had the time to focus on previously, and creating a favorable reputation in the community for them.
Regardless of what your skill set is, you can find someone in need of your help. If you have experience with graphic design, you could volunteer your services to a nonprofit committee in need of gala invitations. If you have experience with web development, maybe you could offer to create a site for that restaurant around the corner. The efforts don't have to be huge, but by helping others you have an outlet to showcase your skills while giving back. Not only will you have a project to add to your resume, but choosing to make use of your valuable time by helping others shows a willingness to go above and beyond in the workplace.
Will adding charitable giving and volunteer work to your resume guarantee you a job? Unfortunately, it won't. It's often said that giving back to the community is its own reward -- but donating your time, energy and money to a good cause can have some very beneficial side effects when pursuing your career.
Noble McIntyre is a founding partner of the McIntyre Law Firm in Oklahoma City, a firm dedicated to giving back to the community.