How To Describe Volunteer Experience In An Interview

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 3 July 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

During an interview, hiring managers may ask whether you have any experience volunteering. Describing this experience might give your interviewer a better insight into your personality and values and indicate the most suitable position for you. Learning how to describe volunteer experience in an interview can help you plan your answers. In this article, we discuss why it is important to describe your volunteer experience, provide a guide on how to talk about it and give examples of possible answers.

Why Is It Important To Know How To Describe Volunteer Experience In An Interview?

If you are wondering how to describe volunteer experience in an interview, you might consider its benefits. Volunteer experience can help you build skills that make you a stronger candidate for a paid position. Often, interviewers focus on past work experience, so if you can add additional information about your volunteer work, it may give you an advantage in the hiring process. It can also explain any gaps or lack of paid work in your resume, while also demonstrating that you are community-spirited, which is a quality many companies look for in candidates.

How To Describe Your Volunteer Experience In An Interview

Here are ways you can describe your volunteer experience in an interview:

1. Show how your volunteer experience is relevant to your chosen career

Many students and professionals volunteer for non-profit organisations that share their interests and fields of study. If your volunteer work relates to the job you are interviewing for, such as a professional association or non-profit body, you can use this to show that you have experience in that field. For example, if you are interviewing for a position at a private medical clinic, you might talk about your volunteer experience with a medical non-profit organisation.

2. Provide examples from your experiences to show a pattern of success

As a volunteer, keep a record of the projects and tasks you complete on behalf of the voluntary organisation. You can present these details as evidence that you can plan and execute projects successfully. When describing a volunteer project, identify the skills you used to complete the project and explain how you might transfer those skills to the job you are interviewing for. If you led a successful fundraising campaign, for example, you could use this to emphasise your project management and marketing skills.

3. Include any leadership roles you have held as a volunteer

Volunteering is one way you can obtain valuable leadership experience, which may give you an advantage in an interview. Serving on a volunteer leadership board or in another leadership position can help you develop skills such as prioritisation and flexibility, along with a greater knowledge of the organisation's mission. Companies value candidates with prior leadership experience, especially if they can connect that experience to the job. If a hiring manager asks you about prior leadership experience, talk about any volunteer leadership role you have filled and explain what you learned from it.

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4. Use your volunteer experience to highlight your soft skills

If your past or present volunteer work does not relate to the job you are interviewing for, you can still use it to show the soft skills you may bring to the role. Soft skills concern a candidate's personality and include traits such as integrity, flexibility and empathy. If your volunteer experiences helped you develop other soft skills like adaptability or creativity, share those experiences with the hiring manager to explain how they can transfer to the role.

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Example Interview Questions With Sample Answers

Here are some sample interview questions and answers that use the candidate's volunteer experience to highlight their strengths:

1. Why did you decide to work in childcare?

Hiring managers may ask this question to get to know you as a candidate and assess how serious you are about the job. This question allows you to demonstrate why you are passionate about the work and it provides an ideal opening to mention any pertinent volunteer work. Explain how the volunteer experience motivated you to pursue this career when answering this question.

Example: "I became interested in childcare as a student. After my first semester, I volunteered at a summer camp for young children and found it very rewarding. I enjoyed the challenge of helping the children in my care learn new skills and grow in confidence. The experience directed me to study early childhood education and pursue a career in childcare."

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2. How much experience do you have as an administrative assistant?

Employers may ask this question to determine your level of professional experience and what skills you could bring to the role. If you have significant previous experience, emphasise the one that is most relevant to the position. Before you respond, mentally review your resume to ensure you included all your relevant paid or volunteer experience.

Example: "I have completed two internships as an administrative assistant at two different companies. I completed my first internship during my first year in college, and on graduating, I received an offer of a full-time job. I completed my second internship last summer and that company also offered me a full-time position. I have managed filing, scheduled conference rooms and served as an administrative assistant for events. I also have experience managing travel arrangements."

3. How do you handle stressful situations?

The aim of this question is to find out how you deal with pressure and challenges on the job. When responding to this question, discuss your past experiences dealing with stressful situations and emphasise your ability to stay calm under pressure. You can use examples from your volunteer experience to explain how you handle such situations.

Example: "When I volunteered at the Turtle Rehabilitation Centre, I helped with the daily care of a large number of injured turtles. We cleaned and fed the turtles, provided medical care and ensured the safety of volunteers when they interacted with them. It was stressful when new turtles arrived with life-threatening injuries. I handled the stress of this situation by staying calm and working as efficiently as possible."

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4. Describe a time when you put in extra effort to help out at work.

Hiring managers may ask this question to understand your attitude towards work and how you respond when a situation calls for extra effort. This is another opportunity for you to show your enthusiasm for a career in childcare and demonstrate how well-rounded you are as an employee. In response, discuss any volunteer experience that demonstrates this trait.

Example: "I volunteered for one year at a school festival. When we ran out of food to serve the teachers and their families, I collected provisions from the local grocery store so that my team could continue to serve food. This initiative added to the overall success of the event."

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5. Describe a time you led a team project. What did you learn from the experience?

Employers may ask this to better understand how you would lead a team project and how well you adapt to others' perspectives. Discuss any volunteer experience that demonstrates your leadership skills when answering this question.

Example: "I chaired a large elementary school committee that organised a school festival once a year. The committee included parents, teachers and administrators who helped lead the event. I was responsible for the planning and organisation of the festival, but I also had to manage and delegate tasks within the committee. My position allowed me to learn more about leadership because I had to remain flexible enough to account for the different strengths of my team members."

6. How would you describe your work style?

Employers may ask this question to learn about your work habits, such as how you manage your time or how well you adapt to others. Talk about previous volunteer experience and how it helped develop your work style.

Example: "I am an organised and focused person. I put a lot of effort into planning and getting things done on time, so I have the least number of distractions at work. I also prefer delegating tasks rather than handling everything myself. I found during my volunteer experience that my organisation skills allowed me to effectively help more people."

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