Should you include volunteer work on a resume?

With many talented workers experiencing stretches of unemployment, employers are taking a harder look at unpaid experience. Here's what to include -- and what to leave out.

This article was originally published by on Thursday, Oct. 20, 2012.

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis, contributor

FORTUNE -- Scale Computing chief executive Jeff Ready recently was interviewing job candidates for a position whose duties included coordinating all-hands meetings at the Indianapolis-based manufacturer. One prospective employee's resume included her experience planning an annual fundraiser for a local charity, several years in a row.

"To me, that experience was awesome. She had done it for four to five years; she obviously liked doing it, or she wouldn't have done it for free," says Ready.

The volunteer work stood out because her resume described the event planning experience and how many attendees were involved, making it clear that it was a substantial amount of responsibility. "You've got that four or five-second opportunity to say something that's going to grab my attention," Ready says. "In that case it was that I'm the lead event planner for the big charity event."

Increasingly, corporate bosses like Ready are taking note of job candidates' volunteer efforts. They recognize that in the recent recession, talented employees may have had stretches of unemployment that they filled with unpaid work. A recent LinkedIn (LNKD) survey found that 41% of hiring managers consider volunteer experience equally valuable as paid work.

But workers still feel nervous about what experience to include and how to be honest while also presenting in the best light. LinkedIn found that 89% of professionals surveyed had volunteer experience, but only 45% included it on their resume.

"People are wondering whether it's considered as legitimate as paid work experience," says Carol Fishman Cohen, co-founder of career reentry programming company "What we're hearing on the employer side is that if the volunteer experience is relevant to your career goal, include it."

For instance, a medical social worker who took a career break to care for her children parlayed her volunteer work at a hospice into a paid position at another hospice, as a volunteer manager. She hopes that job will lead to work as a medical social worker. "She's in an environment where medical social workers are walking in every day telling her where are the best places to work and who's hiring," Cohen notes.

When including relevant unpaid work on your resume, you can either create a separate section called "volunteer experience" or lump it in with your paid jobs under a heading simply titled "experience." Be sure to use active verbs, be specific and quantify your accomplishments -- just as you do with anything else on your resume.

Sometimes, experience outside your field can be included to demonstrate commitment and character. David Bertorello, president of mortgage brokerage BTS Lending, puts on his resume his long-time volunteer work for Hugh O'Brian Youth Leadership, because it's a cause that's close to his heart.

"I want my employers to know I have things I'm involved with. I don't want it to come up as a surprise that I have this commitment," says Bertorello, who devotes at least 150 hours a year to HOBY. "Hopefully it's showing them that I'm well-rounded…. It also breaks the ice in work relationships."

Some volunteer experience at well-known organizations can instantly signal your ability to follow through on a challenging goal. Whenever Marty Scheller, partner of Scheller's Fitness & Cycling, sees that a job candidate achieved the rank of Eagle Scout, he calls that person in for an interview at the Louisville, Ky., retailer.

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