Unpaid Experience on Your Resume

Do internships, volunteer work, or other uncompensated roles “count?”

I am a firm believer that any relevant and relatively recent experience, whether paid or unpaid, is valuable. New skills were gained and existing qualifications were strengthened, with or without a paycheck.  If displayed accurately, unpaid work has a place on your resume and can work to your benefit. Volunteerism, internships, clinical rotations, etc. can help to cover employment gaps, show investment within the community, and/or demonstrate a commitment to professional development. A few things to keep in mind when including unpaid experience on your resume:

  • Give these roles as much space on your resume they deserve, and no more. Are they highly relevant to your current objective? Consider including substantial details on the resume. Not highly relevant to your current objective? Perhaps just list these activities within a “Professional & Community Affiliations” or “Volunteerism” section, including organization name, your role, and a sentence or two summarizing your involvement.
  • Be sure to label this experience accurately so it is clear to the reader that these were unpaid positions. Designate your roles appropriately. A few examples: Volunteer Project Manager, LPN Student, Finance Intern, Group Leader (Volunteer). When I include unpaid positions within the experience section, I label this section “Experience” or “Experience History,” not “Professional Experience” to avoid possible misinterpretation.
  • It can also make sense to create a separate section for unpaid experience on your resume. For example, if you are a nursing student with 5+ rotations and your prior paid experience is not very relevant, using a separate “Clinical Rotations” section and placing it ahead of your “Professional Experience” would be advantageous.
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