Do You Consider Doing Volunteer Work as "Unemployed"?

Updated on August 29, 2012
M.A. asks from Boston, MA
22 answers

So I have been staying home with my kids for the past 1.5 years. To give you some background, I had been working as a software developer before that. I have been doing some volunteer work for a local animal shelter for the past few months, working on their website. The work is very easy and only a few hours a month, but I thought it would be good to have something on my resume to fill in the gap. Now I am starting to look for work and on the applications a lot of places are asking if you are currently unemployed. Doesn't seem right that they can even ask that....but oh well. I'm not sure how to answer. Technically, yes. I'm not making any money... but I am doing some work in my field. Of course they don't see that from the Yes/No answer box. I do have it on my resume so they will see it, but if an employer is ruling out applicants solely based on that field, they won't get that chance. I don't want to lie certainly...just curious what others think. Would it be inappropriate to say that I am not unemployed? thanks everyone!

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So What Happened?

thanks so much everyone - great perspectives! I like your ideas on how to frame this. Gidget, great idea on changing "work experience" to "relevant experience" on my resume. I made some tweaks so that it is clearly listed as a volunteer posistion but my bullet points describe how I am using my skills. To answer one question, this position at the animal shelter is strictly for maintaining their web page - that's what I was brought on for. I never worked with the animals and in fact have never even been to the shelter. thanks again to all of you!

Featured Answers


answers from Norfolk on

To me unemployed means no one is paying you a salary.
What you do for free is a hobby (although a good hobby often costs you).

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Atlanta on

I do list my volunteer work on my resume, but then I list my position as Volunteer. If someone asked me, I would say, "Yes, I am unemployed, but I have been working for the Animal Shelter on their website for the last couple of months to keep my skills fresh," or something. Good luck.

3 moms found this helpful

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answers from St. Louis on

There is always a separate place on my resume for volunteer work and it isn't under work history. Sorry but volunteer work is not considered being employed.

As much as you would like it to be it would be lying and probably would come back and bite you in the butt. Just say you have been volunteering. They will respect that a lot more than a lie.

I have never seen an application that doesn't ask who your current employer is in one form or another so I am pretty sure they are allowed to ask that.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

From an income standpoint? You are unemployed.
From a resume standpoint? You are NOT are keeping your skills up to date!!

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Dover on

You ARE unemployed so you would check "yes" (being unemployed means you are not currently employed and are immediately available for work). You should list them in your "experience" and "voluteer" portions of the application as well as on your resume.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

This box is not necessarily a bad thing. It could be interpreted by a recruiter as "this person is available immediately!". No 2 weeks notice, no buy out of an existing contract, no hassle.
Work right now is very unpredictable, and I know that many positions at my company have been on hold for so long, that now that we're looking to fill them, we don't want to wait for someone to start!
Your volunteer work IS in your field, so it IS relevant work experience, that I'd include in your resume to explain the gap in your resume. Highlight new skills that you've aquired while doing the volunteering, especially if it means you've kept current on software development innovations.
Good luck with your job search!

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Houston on

It would look good on your resume that are doing volunteer work no matter what, but you are not really "employed" if you are only doing a few hours a month of unpaid. You should put it on your resume as volunteering. Otherwise anybody who helps out an old lady do her shopping once a week could technically be "employed".
Employed to me, means you are being paid, you have a responsibility to be in work a certain amount of time (not volunteering when you have time) and are paying taxes.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Santa Barbara on

I don't understand your reluctance or problem with a potential employer asking if you are employed....they need to know what you are doing these days. This is completely normal.

Volunteering at a shelter for a few hours/month isn't employment but certainly should be under the heaer: Community Activities. Are you providing a resume at the same time as well as filling out the application? That seems like a great spot to list your strengths. Really, just answer that you have taken time off to care for your family and you are very excited to get back to work.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Houston on

Unemployed means you are not making any money. Volunteer means you have donating your time to a cause. You are not employed you are donating your time to the animal shelter. Definitely have that reflected on your resume but no you are not employed.

Also, the employer has every right to know if you are working or not. Most employers do background and work history checks.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

You are not employed. You are a volunteer. They are two different titles from a Human Resources standpoint. There are two different levels of accountability and different expectations.

The correct response here would be "Yes" because you do not have an employment contract, your performance is not evaluated on any official level and you are not compensated for your work.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Minneapolis on

No, I don't consider this being unemployed. There are many volunteer jobs that take as much time and skill as a paying job and are as equally important to the functioning of an organization as it's paid positions.

If you are wondering if you can put this down on a resume as work experience? You bet! It all counts. Don't short change your contributions, skills, and experience just because you can't put monetary value on it. Volunteerism is valid and important "employment."

When referring to your work just say you work full-time as a volunteer at non-profit xyz and list all of your pertinent duties and work experience like you would for any other job. For instance if you were a fundraiser or organized a fundraising event, list your duties. They count! References from volunteer jobs are good to list too.

For more on this, consult with a career counselor. They can help you best fill out applications and resumes in regard to volunteering.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

Personally I believe the answer to the question "Are you employed?" is NO. I feel that your volunteer work should fall under "Community Involvement" on your resume.

Will employers automatically exclude you because you check the "no" box. Absolutely not. (especially not in this economic climate)

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

I would list it as employment and clear the facts later. You are still working whether it's free or not. I work at chuch as a volunteer and I still say I "work" there. I use them as a reference for other jobs as well.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Oklahoma City on

Being unemployed means you are not gainfully employed. Volunteer work is not being employed no matter what you want it to be.

It is voluntary, you do not have set hours that you must be there for, you do not have real responsibilities that fit under a job description.

What you need to focus on is the volunteer work being a way to give back to the community, to keep you busy because you enjoy staying active, that you like being around people.

Just because you are unemployed does not mean that you are lacking in items to fill a resume. You are a SAHM if you are working you are not a SAHM. It's one way or the other.

I suggest you think of positive ways to form your answers that highlight your compassion for animals, that you want to be an active part of a life outside of the home, how you still use the skills you have by doing XXX and OOO and that you did this or that. Not being employed is not the end of the world

I am retired, I work 3 part time jobs but only get money from one of them.

I clean house for my FIL, he gives us a gasoline card that we can use as much as needed, NEEDED, not free reign and nothing but gasoline ever or it's gone. I work in the clothing store inside our kids dance studio. This is the only way I can pay for their classes. The owners are wonderful and are so glad to this for us. The kids love taking dance and gymnastics.

I also Iron for customers. I earn money in this endeavor. I use this money to help pay for groceries.

If I were filling out an application form I would put each place in and make sure that I was specific about what each job entailed. How I work with people on a daily basis, how I put out temper fires of parents who are upset about some little thing that happened in class (You've seen Dance Mom's right?), that I handle hundreds of dollars in checks and credit cards daily, I order garments, prepare them for selling, there are tons of things I can put down about this job.

I can put in budgeting skills and buying supplies to show my tiny business as a profit on my taxes each year, to plan my time to make sure I have enough time to accomplish all the customers garments each time they leave them.

Again, I can come up with tons of stuff about what I do. I KNOW you can do it too. Just do not put down you are employed. That's not accurate because they want to know your rate of pay so they can see what you think you are worth. They are also going to call past employers to check with them about your work ethics, your punctuality, how you managed your time in their business, what did they think of you.

All that person answering their questions has to do is slip up and say you are their best volunteer and you've been caught in a lie. There goes the job offer if it was coming.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Honolulu on

List it as non-paid Employment, on an as needed basis etc.
Interns... are this way as well. They are typically not paid, but they are "working" for a corporation or organization etc. And they list it on their resume.
Under the "Employment History" category, you'd put "Employment- (Non-Paid)." For example.

WHEN you list your "Employment"... do not say you just work at an Animal Shelter. They will think you walk the dogs and clean up their pee and poop. SAY specifically... that you are a "Web Developer."

However, were you "hired" as a Volunteer at the animal shelter, specifically to help them with web development and their website??? Or are you just a general volunteer? HOW do they, categorize you? You ALSO need... a letter of recommendation or a job Reference. Who will also SAY... that you work there as a non-paid Volunteer AS A "Web Developer." All aspects, have to jive. BECAUSE, any job you are applying for... they WILL call that Animal Shelter, to verify your stint there AND to verify your "duties" there and your "performance."

So, also talk to the Animal Shelter, and see how they will or are, going to classify you or describe your duties... WHEN a potential Employer, calls them, to "verify" your duties there.

Don't say your duties there are just easy and elementary. SHOW case... your skills/your duties/your ability to problem solve & trouble-shoot FOR the Animal Shelter per their business/website, and how you made IMPROVEMENTS for them, per their website and sophistication of their Web development. And how... perhaps, you also "trained" them. If you did those things too.
And how, integral your skills and problem solving is... for them and their organization.
Make yourself PERTINENT. Don't downplay yourself and say you are just a volunteer who did such easy work it could have been done blindfolded or by a unaware clerk.
For example.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

it's not employment per se, but most applications have somewhere you can note your volunteer experience. or put it in the employment section, but write on it in bold VOLUNTEER POSITION.
it should help you!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Springfield on

I think Laura has a point. You want to get "in the head" of the employer and think about why they are asking the question.

I used to work for the Catholic Church, and I now teach math (I know, weird combination). As a college student I used to volunteer for my church tutoring disadvantaged youth. Actually, there were quite a few volunteer activities that I did in college. Several them appeared on my resume at one time or another, because the work I was doing or the people I worked with directly applied to the job I was looking into.

Since I wanted to put some of these on my resume, my dad suggested I title the section "Relevant Experience" rather than "Work Experience" or "Employment History."

In think WindyCityMom is right, technically you are unemployed. You could call the company and ask why the question is on the application. You could check "no" and then write in small print "actively volunteering at ____ ."

Just be straightforward and try not to worry about it. Good luck!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Norfolk on

can you say free lancer or apprentice or whats it called when you go to school and the school finds a"job" in your field to work at for free until you've got enough experience to where others will hire you. maybe put that.



answers from Dallas on

Since you are volunteering in your professional field, i will list it as employment-maybe parttime, even though it is not paid. If you were volunteering as a dog walker, then I would not consider that as employment. Good luck with your job search!



answers from San Francisco on

I would put down that you are employed and then next to the box write Volunteer basis.

That way they know you aren't sitting home watching daytime tv and that you are motivated to work.

I've heard that employers will essentially skip over the applicants who are unemployed and select employed applicants for interviews. Doesn't seem right to me, but that's what I've heard.



answers from Chicago on

Question: How Is Unemployment Defined?
Answer: Unemployment is defined as by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) as people who do not have a job, have actively looked for work in the past four weeks, and are currently available for work. Also, people who were temporarily laid off and are waiting to be called back to that job are included in the unemployment statistics.

Before I read that..... I would have said you were employed and unPAID. There is a difference. To me.... you have a boss, set work hours, and provide a deliverable to a client..... right? That's a job. You just don't get paid.
But now, I'm not so sure.



answers from Los Angeles on

I'm not sure how serious it is to "lie" on a resume but to click "NO" will probably get your resume tossed out if it's a job that has a lot of applicants or if it's a big company (say, Microsoft).

Feel free to be more honest and check "YES" if you feel the company will actually look at the details of your work and if the company is small. They are more likely to look at the "YES" and then glance at your work history.

Either way, make sure you put in your employment that you work for a non-profit organization. Usually they do not ask for compensation and in an interview you will be able to say that while you were at home taking care of the kids you kept your skills sharp by volunteering to do web design. Overall, what you can and can not say depends on how serious the job is. I couldn't say I was working if the job I was trying to get was with NASA but I could probably get away with it when applying for a small company in my area.

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