RE: Volunteer Work on a Resume? (caution: longish response)

Subject: RE: Volunteer Work on a Resume? (caution: longish response)
From: "Bal Simon" <wordmuse -at- earthlink -dot- net>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 21 Mar 2001 14:05:54 -0800

Janet asks, "... what difference does it make whether you got paid in money or in some other type of compensation (e.g., satisfaction, learning, karma, barter, etc.)?

<myopinion>If this were an ideal world, I would probably agree. The word muses know that I would like this to be so! Unfortunately, I respectfully disagree. (rats!) The "difference"(s) are several:

1 - Employers don't like parting with money. They respect people who can get other employers to part with theirs. (I think that a barter would probably be OK if the trade were truly a substitute for $$$ paid. E.g., I write a doc for your, and you build me a kitchen cabinet. Employers might be able to accept that. Indeed, one of my early contracts (1995) was a barter situation, where, in return for delivering a help file, I got to learn how to use Robohelp and to keep the product. That was my total compensation - for something that I would probably charge several thousands of dollars for now. Was it worth it? You bet. It gave me my first local reference in the Seattle area, and I have been working almost non-stop since.

2 - Other things like karma, satisfaction, etc. are all too subjective for most employers. For those employers who value such things, my guess is that they don't pay very well. Just a guess. And it could be that many others have experience contradicting this. <smile>Wouldn't be the first time I'm dead wrong...</smile>

3 - If an employer asks about this pro bono work, and if it is lumped in with paid experience, then, depending on how the resume presents it, the employer may think you are trying too hard to pad your resume, and will wonder why. Probably not a good thing.

As I wrote before - I think that you can have a section between Experience and Education called, e.g., "Related Volunteer Experience" or just "Volunteer Experience" which will let the employer see that (a) you are willing to present yourself very honestly and forthrightly and (b) that you are a good egg and have a good soul ? there's the karma angle for you.

Most of all, though, I think you need to do what makes you feel good during an interview. You want to be able to look an employer directly in the eyes and, without any hesitation, be able to honestly describe your experience if asked. Maybe it's hard, but it's probably the right thing to do.

A personal experience, just to hit the nail on the head. A contract that I had with a ubiquitous software/internet/game company (the company is always in the news) a couple of years ago went sour. Not my fault (1). My supervisor sabotaged my efforts and I didn't cover my - um - myself. His boss, the team manager believed him instead of me. As I headed out the door on my last day, I handed the manager (not the sup) the 175 page document that the sup said I had not written. This remains a dark spot on my resume. I can't think of anythhing to do about it other than to be as straight up as I can with prospective employers. I tell them just what I told you here. As time passes, and as I have additional successful jobs (I just completed a successful 15 month contract) this one bad one will matter less and less, eventually falling off the resume entirely. <emphatic now>The point is, I want my employer to know what he or she is getting when they bring me on board.</emphatic now> I hope I earn their respect by doing so. I certainly earn my own self-respect.

(1) You can read my "lessons learned" by following this link: (for anyone interested, this is part of a bigger collection of my writing at

]] -at- ]]

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