By Caroline Ceniza-Levine

This article prevously posted at Forbes, July 27, 2019.

Volunteer work, pro bono consulting or other unpaid work experience can be helpful to your job search in multiple ways:

·      in-between jobs, unpaid work experience allows you to stay busy and keep your skills and expertise updated;

·      For a career changer, unpaid work experience allows you to experiment with a new area and gives you proof in a new role;

·      If you’re currently employed and unsure you want a new job, unpaid work experience on the side can help clarify your preferences and priorities.

Ideally, any unpaid work that you do is hands-on and substantive enough to give you stories to share and tangible results. Showcase unpaid work experience in these seven areas of your job search:

1 – Résumé

Include unpaid work experience in your Summary, when it is relevant to jobs you are pursuing, especially if you are a career changer and probably have little else directly related to your new field. Depending on how substantive the experience is (length, results, responsibilities) you can include the details either in your Work Experience section or Additional Information section of the résumé. The more substantive experience should be counted with your other Work Experience.

2 – LinkedIn Profile

LinkedIn has a Volunteer section, and LinkedIn insiders report that including volunteer service results in six times more clicks on your LinkedIn profile. If you are doing pro bono consulting work, and it’s substantive, you may want to include that in your Experience section, rather than volunteer. If you are working with a start-up on the side, along with your day job, I would include that in the Experience section, not Volunteer section, even if it’s unpaid work.

3 – Cover Letter

If your unpaid work experience is one of your strongest examples of why you’re well-suited to a job, don’t forget to highlight it in your cover letter. You don’t need to specify it’s unpaid work, but rather focus on the results achieved and your specific contributions.

4 – Networking Pitch

When you introduce yourself, it’s often helpful to talk about something you’re currently working on or recently did. Similar to the cover letter, if your unpaid work experience is most relevant to the person with whom you’re currently speaking, then incorporate it into your introduction about yourself.

5 – Informational Meetings

As a job seeker, you always want to show you’re staying active, so that the people you’re meeting with know you’re serious about your search and not just looking to them to do the heavy lifting. Prepare examples from your unpaid work experience that show specific skills or expertise you’re learning or that showcase you in a specific role.

6 – Job Interviews

Like in informational meetings, it is best to have examples to share in job interviews. As you go through the job description and match your experience with the requirements and responsibilities, don’t forget about unpaid work experience. If a volunteer role or pro bono project is the closest match to the job at hand, it may be a more powerful example than something from your paid experience that is less aligned.

7 – Negotiation

Don’t assume that because work is unpaid, it means that prospective employers will devalue your worth to zero. If the unpaid work experience is relevant and shows impressive results, then it’s tangible proof to an employer that you are worthy of a role and the market value of that role. Landing even unpaid work shows prospective employers that you make things happen and that you don’t wait around. Use your activity, even in unpaid roles, to remind prospective employers that you are busy. You are a candidate who may just move on if they stall too much!

Keep in mind that while unpaid work experience is valuable and can be helpful to your job search, you want to move to paid experience as quickly as you can. If the role, your contributions and your results are truly important to an organization, they should find a way to pay you. This could be giving you options if it’s a startup, or a Board title if it’s a nonprofit. If your work is truly substantive, you want substantive remuneration to follow suit.