can “volunteering” become “consulting” on a resume?

A reader writes:

I’m eager to get your opinion on a suggestion a recruiter gave me recently. She had me list my marketing volunteer work as “marketing and PR consulting” on my resume to give me more recent work experience. (I was laid off just over a year ago.) I actually have helped a couple of local charities with their social media strategy, marketing, and PR quite a bit over the last year. I did update my resume as she requested, and I got the interview. I gave the interviewer more detail, including the name of the organizations and the fact that my work was unpaid. The interviewer seemed to like it, though in the end I did not get the position. I’m trying to decide if I should make the change permanent and add it to LinkedIn as well. It’s tricky, because I don’t want to be misleading, but I think this could give my efforts a boost at this point.

I think it’s fine to do and not misleading.

Your accomplishments are your accomplishments. It’s no one’s business how much you got paid for them, even if that amount is zero. But perhaps it would help to think of yourself as “taking on pro bono work” rather than “a volunteer.”

It’s true that with volunteer work, employers may wonder whether the organizations you were donating your time to were holding the bar lower/holding you less accountable since your work was free. But that’s pretty easy to address, by focusing on accomplishments in your resume, rather than just listing duties.

And I really like the idea of calling it “consulting”; you were consulting for them. Now, if you’re doing a different type of volunteer work, such as stuffing envelopes, you really can’t call that consulting. But in your case, the description fits.

{ 5 comments… read them below }

  1. Rita*

    As a Career Specialist at a local education Institution I would say it depends. Some volunteer experience can very educational like Internships, well others are more like consulting jobs. It is important for job seekers to honest about these opportunities and the level of work completed. Great topic!! Thanks for the post…

  2. Anonymous*

    I have a similar situation:

    I am unemployed. I was laid off last May. But, my mother has a business that I have helped with for the last several years, and more so since I've been laid off- all for free- to keep my skills sharp and to keep from going crazy.

    I don't like to disclose its a family business because I feel like people may make negative assumptions about being able to slack off, but I have made some pretty impressive, exciting changes in her business that I am really proud of.

    Its on my resume that I work there and I always interview like I have a position that is very part time and I am looking for career growth (very true)- but I certainly don't want to purposely mislead anyone.

    Do you think this is acceptable?

    I have gone through a few interviews that went really well, but never heard anything back. I know its a flooded market, but I don't want to unknowingly make things harder by doing this.


  3. professional resumes*

    You should always be honest on your resum. It may come out in an office conversation that you were "working" for free and then your boss may ot trus you later. An employer should look at the fact that you are not sitting around doing nothing and that you are benefiting someone else and therefore may benfit their company in the future and go the extra mile.

  4. Anonymous*

    I have a question related to this. I have been a board member for our local non-profit Blues Society for 4 years now. Since I got laid off (10 months ago) I increased my volunteer time with them to 15-20 hours a week. I mostly do web and print designs and social media marketing, I also improved their newsletter as well as participated in organizing fundraisers. Currently this is under volunteer work on my resume but I would like to move it up to current experience. The only thing that held me back so far is that blues/music is usually associated with partying. While it is fun, it is also hard work. I would hate to be judged negatively based on bias. Your thoughts?

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