I belong to an established, international educational group that re-creates the Middle Ages. There are over 100,000 of us around the globe. It is an all-volunteer organization. We have a LinkedIn group, and several Facebook pages and groups. Over on the LI group, there have been a few discussions of what we do in our professional lives, and how to translate said experience on a resume. Due to the nature of our organization, our vernacular is very specialized and can be difficult to translate to business English (or French, or German, or Japanese as we are an international organization).
My role in our group is very similar to my role in my professional life: I help newcomers to our organization transition to activities and special interest groups and provide them a resource for guidance (in the HR world it is called recruiting and on-boarding). Luckily, I don't have any problem portraying that role. Like most any other organization, we have a president, vice-president, treasurer, and secretary. Due to the type of education we provide, a very large number of people help plan educational and entertainment events on both small and very large (in excess of several thousands) scales. People are recognized with prestigious awards for the talents and their service to the organization as a whole.
When you are trying to translate your volunteer experience to professional parlance, the first thing to do is look at the organization as a whole. What industry "niche" would it occupy? Think education, health care, IT, finance, etc. Once you have determined the industry, try looking at similar private entities. Use the filter feature by industry on Monster or CareerBuilder and type in a keyword or two associated with your position. For example, if you were the treasurer for your church board, look up other non-profit entities such as the Red Cross and then type in "budget" as a key word. See what comes up, and decide if the verbiage in the job description can be used to help build a framework for you to build a description for yourself.
The rules for converting your volunteer experience to "corporate speak" are no different. Let's take the treasurer example. How much money did you handle? Did you track expenditures and payments? Was there an increase in the positive balance during your tenure? Did you track capital expenditures, or perhaps there was a fund-raising drive while you were on the board. All of these can be important points to highlight on your resume.
Let's say you provide professional services and have chosen to do some pro-bono work. If this is the case, treat it as you would any other client project. If at all possible, it is always advisable to do volunteer work that is in line with your professional talents.
Volunteering during a tough economy is a very viable way to improve your existing professional skills as well as build new ones. Just remember that they *are* professional skills that can help you transition smoothly.
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