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How to Highlight Your Volunteer Experience in an Interview

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A group of volunteers packing food into paper bags.

Volunteering can help to boost your skills and expand your network while you are transitioning between sectors, rejoining the workforce after a career break, or trying to figure out how to utilize a degree. And highlighting your volunteer experience in an interview is a great way to show that you’re committed to a cause and that it’s a priority for you on both a personal and professional level.

Read on to find out how to lift up your volunteer experience the next time you’re interviewing for a social-impact opportunity.

Leverage common interview questions to showcase your volunteer experience

“Why are you a fit for the role?”

This classic question is asking you to assess your fit for the position. It is to your advantage to describe a balance of your hard and soft skills, including the areas of problem-solving and communication that you’ve learned through volunteerism.

This is your opportunity to begin showcasing for your interviewer how you have been able to do a lot with a little. Your answer could include a specific example of how you bring unique qualities that every team needs, but not every team has.

For example, “My volunteer experience has taught me to see the bright spots and hidden opportunities in difficult situations. After leading a senior citizens home outreach program for two years, I know what it takes to lead with compassion and patience, and to encourage others to go the extra mile.”

“Tell me about your leadership style.”

Volunteer leadership is leadership. Share an example of how you have worked with people of different age groups, socio-economic backgrounds, or skill levels. How did you help a group to function as a cohesive unit to achieve a common goal? What did you learn about motivating a team, and how might that translate to the role for which you’re interviewing?

It’s not only about explaining how you problem solve and lead a team, it's about providing insight into your process and approach as well. Your answer to this question can include a big-picture description with clarifying detail and a brief anecdote. For example, “I describe my style as very service-oriented because I want to help others to develop their own leadership skills. My extensive volunteer work has helped me to master that balance between being accountable for creating impact and creating opportunities for others to shine.”

“Tell me about a challenge and how you approached it.”

Employers always want to hear examples of your accountability, creativity, and thoughtful decision-making. Think about a time from your volunteer days when the buck stopped with you. What did you do when only one other volunteer showed up for the park cleanup you organized, or when your organization was low on donations just days before a school supply giveaway?

Your answer should have three parts:

  1. The problem and who would have been impacted if you didn’t find a solution.
  2. Your process for developing a solution.
  3. How you implemented your solution and a summary of the final outcome.

“What motivates you?”

Social impact work is challenging and it can take time to see how it benefits those you serve. Employers want to know that you will have the motivation to keep moving forward when times are tough, and how your personality and work style enable you to meet those challenges.

Try sharing a personal story about why your work is important and how small victories keep you going.

For example, “I have been volunteering with homeless youth in my city for five years, and at times it felt like the problem was only getting worse. Last week, a young man I worked with when I was a new volunteer contacted me to check in and say hello. I love that people I have worked with over the years still think to say 'hi' and let me know about their progress. It makes me feel like I’m a small part of their story, and they’re part of mine.”

Practice Makes Perfect

Mock interviews are a great way of rehearsing your answers and getting comfortable thinking on your feet. Before your next interview, ask a friend to play the role of interviewer and practice answering questions in ways that highlight your volunteer experience.

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by Lauren Graham

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