Author: Janet Farley
You are a community volunteer. In a big or small way, you make a positive difference in the lives of those with whom you share a community.
- You bake cookies for the PTA.
- You teach others, helping them understand the many nuances of a military lifestyle.
- You answer telephones and greet visitors at the family support center.
- You hang posters highlighting upcoming events for the spouses’ club.
- You write and distribute a newsletter for a private organization.
- You recruit and supervise others on a project basis.
- You facilitate a community support group or lead the meetings of a local club.
- You skillfully orchestrate a major community fundraising event that provides scholarship dollars to military families.
- You stuff holiday stockings with goodies for our troops downrange.
Make no mistake about it. What you do matters. You make a difference.
Why, then, are you not capturing valuable work experience laden with marketable skills on your résumé?
Too often, we think that those experiences somehow don’t count because we didn’t receive a paycheck for doing them. When we think like that, we are shortchanging ourselves in a big way.
Volunteerism is important, not only on an intrinsic level but also on a career-enhancing level. Leadership and community involvement are important skills to many employers. They show you care and are connected, proactive, and motivated to learn and contribute. Those are qualities any employer would be happy to hire.
Air Force spouse Laurie Menzel and volunteer extraordinaire agrees.
“Volunteering allows you to gain marketable skills, and it can open doors to career opportunities you might never have dreamed about,” says Menzel, who serves as the American president for the German American Women’s Club in Stuttgart, Germany, as well as the board chair for USA Girl Scouts Overseas-North Atlantic.
“It is through volunteering that I found my passion for nonprofit management,” says Menzel, who earned a master’s degree in nonprofit management from Regis University in Colorado.
Consider the many advantages involved. Volunteering enables you to:
- Maintain your existing skills, keeping them from getting rusty due to lack of use;
- Learn new skills that, in turn, you can use to land a future paid position;
- Minimize employment gaps on your résumé by filling it with work experience;
- Try a new career before committing to the whole change process;
- Connect yourself professionally with others who can help you land a paying job;
- Become the best candidate for the next open paid position; and
- Become familiar with a new community or reacquainted with an old one.
“Many organizations also offer you the opportunity to attend conferences and receive training,” says Menzel.
As if the professional benefits weren’t enough, studies show volunteering also offers social and health benefits.
According to research published by the Corporation for National and Community Service, those who volunteer have lower mortality rates, great functional ability, and lower rates of depression later in life than those who do not volunteer.
Capturing volunteerism on your résumé
How should you capture that volunteer experience on your résumé?
First, determine whether there is a direct skill relationship between your volunteer job and the type of job you wish to land.
If there is and you have a consistent volunteer work history, treat your volunteer experience just as you would a paying job. Give it the space it deserves as another job on your résumé. Omit the use of the word “volunteer” in the job title. Use an appropriate position title and provide an accomplishments-based description as your work narrative.
Many organizations have established job titles and descriptions for their unique volunteer positions. If there is one you can refer to in this case, do so. If not, don’t sweat it. Go to the O*Net online and look up a comparable job title and its accompanying description as a basis for creating your unique one.
Highlight those skills that best support the objective of your résumé. Quantify your accomplishments and responsibilities, just as you would any paying position.
For example, if you were chair of a membership committee for an organization, note the number of volunteers you supervised. Plug in the amount of membership dollars raised under your stewardship. Mention your leadership in event planning and program implementation.
If, on the other hand, your volunteer work experience does not support the type of job you are seeking, you might need to take a different approach to highlighting the information on your résumé.
Instead of treating the unrelated volunteer experience as you would a paying job, consider adding it elsewhere on your résumé in a separate “Community Service” section. The level of priority you give it will depend on who will be reading your résumé.
Is that experience one that will mean something to a potential employer? If the answer is yes, don’t bury it at the end of your résumé or exclude it. If the answer is no, consider whether it truly belongs there in the first place.
If the volunteer experience involves religious or political activities and you choose to include it on your résumé, be certain to keep the content focused on the skills you used and not on your own personal beliefs. Keep in mind not everyone shares your views. Some employers, like or not, might come to snap judgments based on their own beliefs that negatively could affect your chances in landing an interview.
When you are finished adding your volunteer work experience to your résumé, get someone else to look it over for you.
“Share your résumé with group of trusted colleagues who can read it to see if it makes sense,” says Menzel. “Include both military and civilian colleagues so you can be sure you are translating your military-related experiences in such a way that a civilian employer would easily understand it.”
Find volunteer opportunities
You can find volunteer opportunities in many places, wherever you are stationed. If you aren’t sure where to begin your search, visit your installation’s volunteer coordinator at the family support center or Army Community Service.
Other organizations that can help match you with opportunities include:
Are you making a positive difference in your community by volunteering? Please tell us about your volunteer experience either by leaving a comment or finding us on Facebook!
Are you located in Tampa, FL? Please join us on October 14th for MOAA’s “Keeping a Career on the Move®” Spouse Symposium. You can access additional information and register here: www.moaa.org/spousesymposium.
About the Author: Janet Farley is a job search and workplace issues expert and the author of “The Military Spouse’s Guide to Employment: Smart Job Choices for Mobile Lifestyles,” (Impact Pubs, 2013) and “Quick Military Transition Guide: Seven Steps to Landing a Civilian Job,” (Jist, Inc. 2013). She is co-author of the award winning anthology, Stories Around the Table: Laughter, Wisdom, and Strength in Military Life (Elva Resa Publishing, 2014).