Whether you enjoy gourmet cooking, volunteered as a youth soccer coach in college or worked as a bartender to finance grad school - should you include hobbies or non-professional jobs and volunteer experience in your resume when applying for international development jobs?
The answer is, well, it depends.
When it comes to resumes, my standard advice - as well as that of most recruiters you may ask - is to keep it relevant. While your involvement with a local reading group or fondness for sailing may help land your dream date, this is not information a recruiter needs to know to evaluate your suitability for a job opportunity.
I understand the desire to personalize your resume and there is appreciation for well-rounded individuals with interests and hobbies outside of the workplace. But if you choose to highlight these in your resume, it is important to explain how these experiences will make you a better fit for the position.
For example, if you volunteer at a local food bank soliciting donations and are applying to a fundraising position at an international nonprofit, highlighting your experience with fundraising, even as a volunteer, could help strengthen your application. Including your love of jet skiing, however, is more likely to solicit an eye-roll than strengthen your candidacy. At best, including extraneous hobbies can distract the reader from your more relevant experience, and in the worst cases, can actually diminish your seriousness as a candidate.
So you love to travel. Most people working - or wanting to work - in international development do. On second thought, most people in general like to travel. (When was the last time you met someone that said, “You know, I just hate to travel” - unless it is a seasoned aid worker!) Simply stating this on your resume will not make you unique and can sometimes give the impression that you are only interested in the job to rack up frequent flyer miles.
Instead, focus on what it is you did during your travels that would make you a better employee working in international development. Backpacking in Western Europe or across the United States does not translate to experience working in a developing country. Spring Break in Cancun or Ibiza certainly does not. Putting a lot of weight on international experiences like these can make you look naive to a senior manager hardened with years of experience in the field.
But maybe you spent a summer traveling in West Africa where you volunteered at a rural orphanage. Including this in your resume shows that you have some exposure working in a developing country context and can help set you apart from those who do not.
If you are an entry- or mid-level candidate, should you include non-professional positions like waiting tables or delivering pizzas in your employment history? If you have no other experience, then including this information and highlighting the most relevant skills (like working under pressure or juggling multiple tasks) is beneficial. But if you have other, more relevant experience within international development or even other jobs in a professional environment - even as an intern - consider leaving out that waitressing job or add it as a one-line bullet point under Additional Experiences toward the end of your resume.
Needless to say, senior-level candidates should only focus on their relevant, professional positions unless it will cause large gaps in their employment history.
Involvement in school-related activities is seen as a positive by employers when you are an entry-level candidate and do not yet have much professional experience. But once you have been out of school for a few years and have held a couple of positions in the industry, including too many details about your college activities, can detract from your more relevant experience.
So if you’re unsure whether to include hobbies, extra-curricular activities or non-professional positions in your resume, ask yourself: Will these experiences make me a better fit for the position? And if the answer is yes, then be sure to explain why they are relevant in either your resume or cover letter. Otherwise, save your love of long walks on the beach for your online dating profile.
Read last week’s Career Matters.