If you’re like many military spouses, volunteering in your community probably comes naturally. And through your volunteer experience, you are building marketable skills for future paid employment. The following information will help you plan your volunteer activities in a way that can position you to find a paying job when the time is right. It will also help you ease the transition from the world of volunteering to the world of salaried employment.
Deciding what’s right for you
The stages of your life often dictate what is possible for you to undertake. For example, if you have small children, child care may be an issue. The beauty of volunteering is that you can make choices to suit your lifestyle. You can try on different opportunities to see what fits, and you can obtain valuable experience during the process. It’s a good idea to sit down and figure out what you would like to do. Think about your short-term and long-term goals, your interests, and your skills.
Most military installations provide career guidance, including self-assessment tools, at their family support center. Your installation may have a volunteer coordinator who can help you assess your needs and find a volunteer position on the installation or in the local community.
Benefits of volunteering
Volunteering provides countless opportunities to excel. Learning new skills, building and maintaining a professional network, and personal satisfaction are just a few. If your ultimate goal is to get a paid position, the possibility for doing so through volunteering is very real.
- Skill-building. Volunteering can help you develop new skills, while keeping your old ones current. A volunteer position can help you develop leadership, management, communication, accounting, computer, and budgeting skills. With a little leg work, you can probably find a position that will give you the skills you want to develop.
- Experience. The experience you gain as a volunteer can help as you search for paid employment. The experience also translates to self-confidence, which comes across as a positive attribute during an interview.
- Networking. The network you build through volunteer work can help you find paid employment. Volunteering may put you in the right place at the right time to take advantage of an employment opportunity.
- Training and conferences. Some organizations offer formal training and the opportunity to attend conferences and workshops to their volunteers.
- Personal satisfaction. Research shows that learning something new and being of service to others are key elements to happiness. Volunteer work can bring both those elements into your life.
Finding volunteer opportunities
Be proactive in searching for a placement that suits your interests, goals, and circumstances. It’s also important to take advantage of all the resources available to identify volunteer opportunities.
- Check out installation resources. Your family support center is a good place to start. Many family support centers have a volunteer coordinator who maintains a list of positions both on and off the installation. The installation newspaper, website, and TV station may offer more leads. Opportunities to volunteer are often showcased at events welcoming new people to installation life.
- Look into unit resources. Your spouse’s unit is a good place to look for volunteer opportunities. Check with the unit’s chaplain or chain of command.
- Search the Internet. You can search for volunteer opportunities through your service’s family support websites.
- Try traditional volunteering. You may find your niche within the realm of traditional organizations. These include the American Red Cross, established community service organizations, spouse clubs, sports activities, schools, and libraries.
- Teach a course. You might start out volunteering your time teaching a class at the library or a religious organization only to find that it may lead to a paid position. If you have a special talent, you can volunteer your time to share your skills with your peers.
- Find a mentor. Someone who has walked this road before may be able to direct you along the path from volunteer to paid employee. Some spouse organizations offer a mentorship program. The Military Spouse Business Alliance (MSBA), launched by the United States Chamber of Commerce and Academy Women in January 2012, offers an excellent MilSpouse Leadership and eMentoring program. The MSBA is also a good way to learn about hiring fairs and career forums for military spouses.
- Be a mentor. There’s something to be said for the positive impact of guiding someone else along their way. Keep in mind that some military spouse organizations offer mentor training. You can learn more about becoming a mentor through the MilSpouse Leadership and eMentoring program.
- Research civilian community opportunities. Local chambers of commerce and local service organizations (like your community humane society) are places to start searching for volunteer opportunities within your community. Joining Forces is a great place to search for projects that serve the military community.
- Work for a cause near and dear to your heart. This engages your passion and can lead to a very meaningful experience as well as paid employment. For example, the National Military Family Association was started by women who felt strongly that issues affecting military families should be brought to the attention of Congress. They volunteered their time for their passion. Now that organization has a full complement of paid employees as well as a strong contingent of volunteers.
If you are living overseas, your only opportunity to work may be on a volunteer basis because of limited employment opportunities or restrictions on employment. Don’t let that dampen your spirit or your drive. Visit the volunteer coordinator at your installation’s family support center for help connecting with volunteer positions, such as teaching English or helping newly arrived families find out about housing and other installation services. Also, ask if your local overseas installation has established a Regional Military Spouse Employment Partnership (MSEP) (e.g. Korea has a well-established program). Such programs help spouses explore the international world of work and make volunteer, career, and transition work-related decisions.
Translating volunteerism to the work force
You may coach a child’s sports team, help introduce newcomers to installation life, be a crucial link in communicating accurate news from your spouse’s command, or “give back” in countless other ways. At the same time you are building skills – as a leader, an implementer, an organizer, and a communicator – that can help you find a paying job when the time is right.
- Your resume. A resume is a summary of your skills, education, experience, and accomplishments. In general, a resume should be short (no more than two pages) and targeted. Talk about the specifics of your volunteer experience. For example, you might say that you raised $1,000 by organizing teens to raise funds for a leadership training program. For help developing your resume, you can contact a Spouse Education and Career Opportunities (SECO) consultant at Military OneSource by calling 1-800-342-9647. You may also get help at your installation’s Employment Assistance Program office. They offer resume-writing workshops, job skill and interview training, and workshops for applying for federal jobs. SECO consultants can help you find local points of contact offering these services.
- The job search. Make the most of your personal connections to find a job. A friend or someone you have met through your volunteer work may know of a suitable position. Keep in mind that social-networking websites for professionals may put you in touch with other professionals in your field. Job search sites dedicated to military spouses, such as the Military Spouse Employment Partnership Career Portal and the Department of Labor Career OneStop Centers, are other good resources. If you’re interested in certain employers, you may want to contact them and ask for a short informational interview. Be sure to follow up by sending a thank-you note and a copy of your resume. Some organizations may not have positions open but will allow you to volunteer in order to get experience in the business. Also, remember that MSEP partner employers network with each other routinely, so they may know who has open positions of various types, including volunteer opportunities, internships, and paid positions.
- The interview. Your volunteer experience has probably given you more polish and confidence when interacting with people. This will serve you well when answering questions during your interview. Be proud of your volunteer contributions and accomplishments. Companies pay good salaries to people with your skills and experience. Be sure to study the organization and think about how your skills and experience will lead to business success.