How to Add Extracurricular Activities to Your Resume—So They Actually Help Your Job Search was originally published on The Muse, a great place to research companies and careers. Click here to search for great jobs and companies near you.
When you’re writing a resume, your education and past jobs are far from the only things that matter. The truth is, the past experiences and skills that employers care about can come from a number of places. And particularly when you’re a current student or an entry-level candidate, extracurricular activities can be a great addition to your resume.
Extracurriculars are any structured, ongoing activity you took part in during school, but not as an academic requirement. They are often (but not always) affiliated with or run by the school you attended. And your participation in these activities (especially in a leadership role) can set you up to succeed in your future jobs.
According to Muse career coach and founder of Flourish Careers Jennifer Smith, who has recruited, coached, and hired early-career candidates across a number of industries and jobs, there are two main situations when you should include extracurriculars on your resume:
- When you’re a current student or recent graduate and the extracurricular (or your role in the organization) showcases leadership or is specifically relevant to the job or industry you’re applying to
- When you’re a current student or recent graduate and you don’t have a lot of internship or paid work experience
Once you’re more than five years past graduation, your extracurriculars probably don’t belong on your resume anymore—unless they’re especially relevant to the industry or role you’re applying to and you don’t have more recent, relevant experience, Smith says. This would most likely come up if you’re looking to make a career change or pivot.
Early in your career, particularly when you don’t have much or any professional experience, employers want to see that you have transferable skills. These are abilities and knowledge that can be applied in multiple contexts—for instance, both an extracurricular activity and an office environment. In other words, extracurriculars can prove you’re a great candidate for a job even if you haven’t already held a similar—or any!—job.
If you held a leadership position within an extracurricular—whether you were the president of a student group, programming chair for your sorority chapter, or treasurer for your intramural sports club—that experience is especially valuable on an early-career resume. Smith, who used to lead a team that hired university students for internships and entry-level jobs, has often seen companies seek out students who had led clubs and societies, knowing they would bring valuable traits and transferable skills to the workplace.
For example, if you ran large club meetings, you likely have some communication and presentation skills. Or maybe you were responsible for advertising or outreach and you gained some marketing skills. These roles also show that you’ve taken on responsibilities—a core requirement for any job.
If you didn’t hold an official position in an activity, but you were in charge of an event, campaign, or some other aspect of the organization’s management, that can also go on your resume as relevant experience. Maybe you designed the club’s website and want to get a design role, or you put together a charity event and want to go into fundraising.
Even without a formal or informal leadership role within your extracurricular, you still likely picked up some transferable skills, such as teamwork and collaboration, organizational skills, time management, communication, and project management, Smith says. If you were a highly active member, especially over a longer period of time, this shows dedication and work ethic as well.
Your extracurricular activity might also show that you are passionate about the industry you’re trying to join and may be more knowledgeable and prepared than your peers. “For example, a member of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) who is applying for an entry-level engineering role” should include that membership on their resume, Smith says, as evidence that you’ve put time into preparing for this career path, possibly attending industry conferences or taking part in other career development activities.
Not sure what type of extracurriculars might go on your resume? Here are some examples to get you started:
- Academic clubs or societies related to a specific discipline (for example, the National Association of Black Accountants (NABA))
- Arts organizations (such as a drama club, marching band, or a cappella group)
- Community and civic activities (for example, Students for Environmental Action)
- Greek life (as long as your sorority or fraternity hasn’t been in trouble for inappropriate behavior)
- Media or publications (such as the student newspaper or campus radio station)
- Multicultural organizations (such as a Black student association, Muslim student group, or Pride group)
- Political groups (but use your discretion here—if it’s especially controversial or you know the company you’re applying to holds opposing views, these activities might be best left off)
- Sports teams
- Student government
- Volunteer activities or organizations (such as Habitat for Humanity)
- Other clubs (even if you joined a group “just for fun” you might’ve still picked up skills doing it!)
Before deciding to add extracurriculars to your resume, identify the skills you need for the job you want, Smith says. You can do this by reviewing the job description or setting up an informational interview with someone who works in a role or industry you want to work in—or even at the specific company you have your eye on. For each application, take into account the company you’re applying to, as well. What values do they have? Are they all about teamwork? Do they value creativity? Do they want people who will take initiative to solve any problems they spot?
Then think about what you’ve done in your extracurriculars and what skills and qualities you developed or demonstrated. “Pinpoint the skills [you gained] that will serve you best in your new path,” Smith says. These skills, the circumstances in which you used them, and extracurriculars attached are what belong on your resume.
Let’s say you want to go into sales. The juggling skills you gained from three years of Circus Club might not be very helpful in landing your first full-time job, but the time you sold 50 tickets to the “Circus Skills Expo”—more than anyone else—might catch a recruiter’s eye.
Similarly, if you played a sport, the number of goals you scored probably matters less to a prospective employer than how well you work with a team, the time management skills you gained balancing your practice schedule with classes and studying, or your work ethic—unless you’re going into a sports-related role.
Doing some research on the specific companies you’re applying to can help you highlight the right aspects of your extracurricular experiences. For instance, Smith says, “I often saw big-name companies specifically seek out student athletes because they know the competitive spirit will be a good fit with their company.”
Where your extracurriculars go on your resume depends on what your role and scope of responsibility was in the organization, how relevant it is to the job you want, and whether you have other work experience to include on your resume, Smith says.
These are three common options:
- Your experience section: An extracurricular belongs in your experience section when you either had responsibilities and a time commitment similar to that of a part- or full-time job, or when your achievements showcase skills and experience that are directly relevant to the role you’re applying to. A stage manager for a drama ensemble play might spend 20+ hours a week coordinating multiple teams and making sure everything needed is ready by opening night. Or perhaps a video editor for a film club edited multiple student films using the same or similar software and technical skills to the ones that the content creation role they’re applying for uses.
- Your education section: Smith suggests including an extracurricular within your education section when you had minor responsibilities but it’s related to the industry you want to work in. For example, maybe you were a member of a business honor society and want to work in finance.
- A dedicated section: If you have multiple extracurriculars that are relevant to the job you’re applying for, you might consider including an “Extracurricular Activities” section to highlight them a bit more than your education section might. Or a “Leadership Experience” section might be appropriate for someone who held leadership positions in multiple organizations, Smith says.
Regardless of where you choose to list your extracurriculars, you should generally include the name of the organization, your role within it (“member” or any positions held), and the dates you participated. Particularly when you want to use your extracurriculars to demonstrate your skills and experiences, you should also include major responsibilities, accomplishments, or any awards won in the form of bullet points.
How would this look in practice? In your experience section or within a dedicated section, an extracurricular activity entry can be listed just like a job or internship. In this example, the person wants to demonstrate leadership and management skills as well as their ability to adapt to changing circumstances:
Vice President, Young Educators of America at Duke University | Fall 2019–Spring 2020
Chapter Secretary, Fall 2018–Spring 2019
Member, Fall 2016–Spring 2018
- Ran twice-weekly tutoring program with an average of 30 tutors and 80 local high school students, advertising program at three area schools, booking rooms, matching students with tutors for appropriate subjects ahead of time, overseeing sessions, managing conflicts, and collecting feedback on tutor performance
- Pivoted program to operate entirely online during COVID-19 pandemic, adjusting tutoring practices for remote sessions and increasing session availability to help students struggling with remote learning
Even without a leadership position, you still want to show what you did as a member with strong, quantified bullet points that highlight the skills you want an employer to see. A college musician who wants to highlight their time-management and teamwork skills might say something like:
Member, Lehigh University Jazz Ensemble | 2017–2020
- Attended two-hour practices four times weekly and played up to eight shows a month on campus and across the state
- Organized weekly rehearsals for 10-person trumpet section to help one another with new pieces, give feedback on individual performances, and identify any problems with our group’s playing
Within your education section, an extracurricular could be a single bullet point that might look like this:
Bachelor of Science in Mathematics | University of Connecticut | 2015–2019
Major Track: Applied Mathematics
- Member of Pi Mu Epsilon Mathematics Honor Society | 2017–2019: Participated in weekly meetings, listened to monthly talks by researchers, and attended national conferences to learn more about new mathematical theories and speak with applied mathematics professionals
By: Regina Borsellino
From The Muse