Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Applicants' voluntary experience is valued by recruiters

Job applicants with experience in voluntary roles may be tempted to report this to their prospective employers. But how favourably do recruiters regard these sorts of experience? Christa Wilkin and Catherine Connelly investigated this in a group of professional recruiters, providing them with CVs (resumes) constructed to differ systematically in the types of experience reported. They suspected that other things being equal, work experience may be favoured more when it comes with a wage, as duration in a paid role implies you have met performance and behavioural standards, whereas voluntary positions tend to lack appraisals and focus more on participation (hours of involvement) than evaluating outcomes. Wilkin and Connelly also predicted that voluntary work would be subject to the same 'relevance' criteria as paid: if it didn't obviously supply skills, knowledge and experience that were pertinent to the targeted job, it wouldn't make them more attractive to the recruiter.

The 135 participants each evaluated eight CVs with a target job in mind, rating each one on a seven point scale in terms of how qualified they seemed for the role. The work experience for four CVs was either entirely voluntary or entirely paid, and either clearly relevant or irrelevant. The other four CVs all had a mix of voluntary and paid work in various combinations (e.g., relevant voluntary and irrelevant paid work). In addition, each recruiter recorded how involved they had personally been in voluntary work, to test the hypothesis that first-hand experience may lead them to attribute more value to this kind of work.

Comparison of voluntary and paid-work CVs showed that the recruiters had no significant preference for paid experience, but did favour relevant experience over irrelevant, regardless of type of employment. A recruiter's background of voluntary work had no influence on their ratings of applicants with voluntary experience. Finally, CVs with a mix of experience were rated more favourably than either pure voluntary or pure paid work. Wilkin and Connelly had predicted this, based on the idea that voluntary work can 'round-out' a career history by showing evidence of traits that may not be illuminated in paid opportunities to date, such as altruism, cooperation, and a work ethic. It provides evidence that a candidate may be a welcome presence, which is especially attractive when coupled with evidence that the candidate can also produce results in an appraised environment.

This study paints an optimistic picture for candidates with volunteering backgrounds. Recruiters tend not to automatically deprecate these types of experiences: they simply care about how the experience is relevant to the application. Moreover, introducing volunteering work as a complement to paid experience can enhance prospects, this appears to be true even when the volunteering is less-relevant, as long as the paid work is relevant, despite the explicit positions of recruiters that this evidence is unlikely to sway their evaluation.

ResearchBlogging.orgWilkin, C., & Connelly, C. (2012). Do I Look Like Someone Who Cares? Recruiters’ Ratings of Applicants’ Paid and Volunteer Experience International Journal of Selection and Assessment, 20 (3), 308-318 DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-2389.2012.00602.x


  1. These are some really interesting findings, thank you for sharing. Hopefully this will help people improve their CV in their search for full time jobs.

  2. I think voluntary work is always valuable, it's a matter of how someone represents the skills and experience they learned to the job they are applying for. For example, if they simply say "I worked at a food bank serving food to homeless" it's not going to carry much wait for a secretary job. But if they say, "while working at a food bank, I learned to work with a variety of people. I learned how to be organized and use my time wisely" Those skills could apply to any job being applied for.

  3. Hi Shar

    You've managed to encapsulate the core finding of the research in a nutshell. It's the relevance of work that appears to matter to recruiters, not the paid or unpaid status.

    Thanks for reading