Nine years ago we decided I would leave my job and stay home with our children. At that time I knew my unemployment wasn’t forever and that someday I would return to work when the time was right. We didn’t really have a plan because I knew that I wanted to stay home with our children until our youngest was finished with kindergarten.
What I didn’t know at that time was what being a stay-at-home-mom and military spouse life would really be like and how hard it would really be to get a job.
After a few years I thought maybe I should try and find something just so I could build a resume, but that lack of work and a husband with unpredictable hours made it hard to find something to fit our life. Enter the idea to volunteer in our community. Volunteering, I hoped, would let me build a resume and network with the dream of it someday leading to something that paid.
Fast forward a duty station or two and we are finally ready for me to make the jump. I had spent five years volunteering and had a pretty impressive resume that highlighted all my talents. However, nine years of unemployment plus many cities and I was struggling to find a job.
My confidence was beginning to lack. And then I read this SpouseBuzz article about how including volunteer work on your resume – all I had, really -- could possibly hurt you instead of making the situation better. It crushed me.
Unless I included paid work I had done 10 years prior volunteer work was all I had on my resume. I was at a low point in my job search. How could I keep going if this was true? How would I ever get a job? But I pushed on. After all, it was just one article out of many I had seen with advice had pointed in the other direction.
After a long talk with my husband we agreed it was OK if I had to wait a little longer. He encouraged me to not take a job for the sake of having one but rather wait for one I really wanted. So I set aside my volunteer filled resume and decided to enjoy the rest of the summer with our children and start the hunt again once school had begun.
It was as if relaxing about it was the magic bullet. Much to my surprise I got a phone call to interview for a job I really wanted with a company for which I was very much interested in working. It was in the right industry and I knew that even though I had to take a job below my qualifications, it was a starting point.
During the interview my volunteer experience was brought up countless times. They talked about the talents I gained through those jobs and how they made me a good fit for the company. I told my interviewer why I left full time employment and why I chose the path that I did.
And I’m happy to say I was hired!
I believe that using volunteer work for your resume is extremely valuable BUT it has be marketed in just the right way. My advice on making volunteer work enhance your resume instead of hurt it?
1. Volunteer in your desired job field not just anything that comes up to keep you busy. Remember you want employers to see that you are staying current in today’s market.
2. Treat your volunteer work as a job. Set hours you will spend each day, week and month and stick to it for as long as you are not employed.
3. Network! Do what you can to get to know they people you are volunteering for. These individuals will be your best reference.
So, can you volunteer your way into a job? YES!
Kate Laing is the author of Kate Runs With Boys. She and her Sailor husband along with their two boys have been traveling the world thanks to the Navy for 14 years. When not shuttling her two boys around or working you can find her running with her favorite running club, Stroller Warriors, hiking or writing.