As military spouses, we are often forced to explain employment gaps every time we apply for a job. One way to avoid the awkward “why haven’t you worked in two years?” question is to fill employment gaps with quality volunteer experience.
Many years ago, my husband and I welcomed our third child within weeks of a deployment, so we decided I would resign and become a stay at home mom until his return. A 12-month deployment turned into 15, ending just shy of the school year. Ultimately, we decided, due to the lack of reliable and reasonably priced childcare, I would put off my reentry into the job market until fall. Then the decision came between spending hundreds of dollars on childcare and day camps or spending the summer with the kids poolside (tough decision, right?).
As the summer came to an end, I prepared to hit the ground running with an updated resume and newly purchased interview outfit. When the military version of Murphy's law struck and with it came a rapid deployment, followed by PCS orders. My one year of being a stay at home mom turned into three.
With deployment number three behind us and most of our HHG received (minus a sofa), I dusted off my resume and my interview outfit, only to be confronted with a large gap in my work history. Prior to my “sabbatical,” I had a solid ten-year work history, then three years of nothing. I did my best to explain away the gap with colorful language like “blessed to take time away,” “caring for family,” or “personal responsibilities.” These did little to convince employers I would be a committed, reliable employee.
I had to address my employment gap and ease employers’ concerns. It may seem natural to add “Household 6” on your resume, responsible for the budget and finances, day to day management of the household, organizing multiple moves, etc.
I know “military spouse” is one of toughest jobs in the military (believe me I know!), but employers don’t always see the value of hiring a military spouse. Instead, they see a liability.
Something that can add value to your resume is volunteer work and the skills you learned while doing it.
How to Include Volunteer Experience
Expand and be specific! I review tons of resumes and the most common thing I see is vague, nondescript statements about work and volunteer experience. Simply stating “Volunteered at Cub Scout Pack 1” doesn’t explain your role, your responsibilities, and the skills you obtained.
Instead, try this:
Pack Secretary for Cub Scout Pack 1 New Town, USA
August 2015-June 2017
• Pack 1 secretary for the largest pack in the region
• Recorded and distributed minutes for monthly meetings
• Created and maintained all pack related schedules
• Maintained pack social media accounts, responsible for creating engaging social media posts
This detailed description shows administrative experience which makes more of an impact than a generic “volunteered at Cub Scout Pack” statement.
Were you responsible for organizing family events for your FRG every month? That could easily translate to event planning.
Volunteered at the local animal shelter coordinating the annual fundraiser, that equals fundraising experience. These are marketable skills that show any employer your value as an employee. Remember experience is experience whether paid or not!
“Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.”
– William James
Need help translating your volunteer experience contact us at https://www.msccn.org/, one of our employment specialists can help you! If you are looking for volunteer opportunities, check out MSCCN’s Career Corps which provides spouses (and veterans) with current work experience and training to fill in employment gaps and continue to grow professionally.
Written by: Amanda Marksmeier