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The Stop Sign: Unpaid Experience

Aug 15, 2022 | Blog, Learning, New Job

Dear StopSign

The Stop Sign: Unpaid Experience

Does unpaid experience count?

Dear StopSign,
I have experience, but it’s unpaid. Does it count?

Ms. StopSign used to volunteer at an agency that helps inner-city people find a better job. One day she asked her supervisor, “Can I put this experience on my resume?” The agency person replied, “What business is it of theirs how much you get paid for doing work for me?”

Many people think work only counts if they were paid for it.
Stop doing that!

Many people equate their worth with what they have been paid.
Stop doing that!

Unpaid work—which can include internships, volunteering, parenting, and more—definitely counts!

Consider, as an example, the life of a home-maker or stay-at-home parent who typically is not paid for their work. According to Salary.com, if the average stay-at-home parent paid for their services, they would be looking at a median annual salary of $178,201. Why? Because many stay-at-home parents work around the clock.

Instead of counting dollars, focus on the qualitative value of the work.

Relevant unpaid work demonstrates that you can do the work.

Let’s again consider [unpaid] parents: Parents are tutors, negotiators, at-home nurses, chefs, and more. Experienced parents master a wide array of skills, including negotiation, finance, sales, cooking, time-management, leadership, and mentoring.

Any employer who values hard work will want to talk to a person with these skills.

Furthermore, by performing unpaid work, you show a willingness to learn. When you talk about that work and use STAR stories, you can convey a positive attitude, enthusiasm, dependability, attention to detail—in short, professionalism.

In other words, unpaid work can demonstrate your ability to do the work and convey you will want to keep doing the work.

In short:

  1. Don’t leave unpaid internships off your resume.
  2. Don’t leave relevant unpaid volunteer work off your resume.
  3. If you are a recent graduate, do consider including relevant coursework. (Hey that’s work, too!)

About The Author

Ed Lawrence is a National Certified Résumé Writer (CPRW), National Certified Online Profile Expert (NCOPE), and is certified in DISC, MBTI, and Skillscan. He has volunteered with the ICT for seven years. Learn more about him at www.linkedin.com/in/educate.

The StopSign is a job-search column offering serious career advice with a touch of humor to help you stand out among the crowd that follows the same-old, same-old advice you find all over the internet. Feel free to send any questions you’d like answered in these posts. We’ll tell you what not to do and where to go—not!