8 Ways To Incorporate Volunteer Work Into Your Cover Letter

Kellie Hanna, CPRW
By Kellie Hanna, CPRW, Career Advice Expert Last Updated: March 22, 2023

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Your cover letter is a strong tool at your disposal during your job search. It often determines whether employers review or reject your resume. To keep your document out of the trash, use relevant cover letter samples and avoid common mistakes such as detailing every prior position in your career. How do you avoid such a mistake? How do you make your document more impressive than other candidates’ cover letters?

Consider including volunteer work in your letter. In some cases, it is not a good idea to mention this information, but often it improves your chances of standing out as a remarkable applicant. Use the following tips to learn how to use this type of experience to enhance your document.

8 Ways To Incorporate Volunteer Work in Your Cover Letter

1. Relate it to the job at hand

Before you write about your volunteer work, determine its relevance to the position. Glenn Lucas, a veteran office manager who reviews hundreds of resumes and cover letters each year, notes that he does not waste time considering candidates who detail irrelevant experience of any kind. “Your volunteering may be interesting. It may promote a great cause. However, if it does not relate to the job, it does not tell me why I should hire you,” he says.

Before you write about your volunteer work, determine its relevance to the position.

In your unpaid position, did you perform duties or have specific responsibilities that reflect the descriptions in the job listing? Find a connection between your unpaid work and the job to which you are applying. Point to their similarities.

Pro Tip: Review resume examples, CV examples and cover letter examples to see how professionals in your field highlight relevant volunteer work experience.

2. Include it only when appropriate

“I enjoy reading a cover letter that mentions applicable volunteer roles. It often sets one candidate apart from the rest of the hiring pool,” Lucas relates. Some hiring managers do not share this opinion, however. Research the company and the position to determine if it is appropriate to include such roles in your document.

Think about the nature of your work as well. Some applicants choose to exclude volunteer work in political, religious, or other areas that hiring managers may view as controversial. While discrimination against job seekers because of their beliefs is illegal, you want to avoid biasing employers against you for any reason. Understand the risks you are taking before you include such information in your letter.

Check out what to include a cover letter for additional guidance on deciding what to put on this essential document. We also recommend exploring the best AI cover letter generators and using one to help write your cover letter in minutes. 

3. Use it to illuminate your skills

There are many helpful cover letter writing tips that can guide you as you craft your cover letter. One such guideline is to showcase your skills. You can use your volunteer work to do this.

“When you talk about your unpaid positions, identify transferrable proficiencies.”

“When you talk about your unpaid positions, identify transferrable proficiencies,” Lucas recommends. “This keeps the focus on your skills that relate to the job at hand just as much as the fact that you provide these skills for free.” Try to emphasize your use of pertinent technical proficiencies, not soft skills or personality traits, when describing this work. Our Cover Letter Builder can help you figure out which skills and strengths to emphasize in your cover letter.

4. List it as additional information

Avoid making your unpaid role the sole focus of your cover letter, unless you have no official experience to illustrate. “Consider your volunteer work as a supporting argument rather than an opening sales pitch,” advises Lucas. In most cases, prospective employers care more about your career history and skills.

Discuss your career and proficiencies first in your cover letter to convince hiring managers to read your resume and consider you for the open position. Mention volunteer work only after you introduce yourself, identify your top skills, and list at least one relevant official job you held previously in your career.

Pro Tip: Choose a resume template that organizes your skills, experience and education in the way that best highlights your strengths, then use our resume builder to quickly and easily add expert-written, job-specific content.

5. Place it in the second half of your document

Most hiring managers read the top half of your cover letter first. You want to hook them with this section. Your opening anecdote and the introduction of your top credentials belong in this space.

Incorporate your volunteering into one of the last paragraphs of your document.

After illuminating other experiences, incorporate your volunteering into one of the last paragraphs of your document. “This can set you apart even more as an appealing candidate,” Lucas notes. “If, however, your unofficial roles fail to impress hiring managers, the qualifications you discussed previously in your document may prevent them from discarding your letter and resume altogether.”

6. Identify it to enhance your other qualifications

Your cover letter needs to paint a picture of how you will benefit the employer if you get the job. Do this by using a few short paragraphs to illustrate the skills, work history, and accomplishments you list in your introductory paragraphs. Include your volunteer work in one of these concise paragraphs.

For instance, you may mention your strong cognitive skills and abilities that allowed you to reduce company costs, increase profits, and manage teams in past roles. Your next two paragraphs should show how you cut costs and generated revenue in two previous paid positions. Your third paragraph should then identify how you led and supervised teams in a volunteer role.

7. Incorporate it as an anecdote

Don’t use a statement such as, “I developed skills in team and project management as a volunteer for ABC Organization.”

“Show, don’t tell.”

Such statements are uninspiring, Lucas cautions. “Show, don’t tell,” he urges. “As you incorporate your volunteer work into your cover letter, use it to tell a story that illustrates a special achievement or valuable skill.” Provide an anecdote that describes a scenario similar to situations you may face in the new role. This is more likely to interest and entertain prospective employers.

8. Describe it as something you want to do

While some hiring managers enjoy learning about your volunteering, others sometimes see it as a red flag. “Put their mind at ease by mentioning why you work without pay,” Lucas advises. “Show them you take on these roles because you want to volunteer, not because you have to do it.” Identify a passion for a particular cause or a desire to develop specific skills.

You may want to do this only if you are unsure how hiring managers will respond to your descriptions of unofficial work. Otherwise, you can discuss your motives for volunteering in an interview if the opportunity presents itself.

Ready To Start Your Cover Letter?

A stellar cover letter can lead to new job opportunities. Including volunteer experience in your letter often helps set you apart from other job seekers. Turn to our useful Cover Letter Templates and Cover Letter Builder to incorporate this experience into your document and construct a perfect letter. Our Builder is easy to use and can guide you every step of the way until you have a personalized document that grabs the attention of prospective employers. We recommend exploring our basic cover letter writing guide for additional tips and tricks. 

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