by Amy Schofield, Guest Contributor
As a military spouse, how many times have you heard the phrase
“volunteering can help you fill in your resume gaps?”
I know I have heard that phrase at least a thousand times. Military spouses do have more resume gaps and they may have a more difficult time obtaining paid employment than their civilian counterparts due to the constant moves, state licensing transfer-ability issues, unpredictable military schedules, and the need to redevelop their support system each time they move.
Volunteering is often a fallback for spouses who can’t find paid employment, and therefore it is a great way to fill in resume gaps, but how do you really do this?
The best way is to treat your volunteer experience like professional paid work experience! Here are some things to keep in mind for showing your volunteer work on your resume.
Step #1: Determine if you should incorporate your volunteer experience right within the professional work experience section of your resume OR if you should have a separate section on your resume solely dedicated to volunteer experience.
If you have any year gaps in your resume, then you may choose to place your volunteer positions right within your professional work experience section in reverse chronological date order. This will help your resume flow. Make sure the word volunteer appears somewhere within that entry so that you do not mislead a future hiring manager.
If your volunteer time overlaps with any job you’ve held or you’ve been a serial volunteer and have multiple volunteering roles at the same time (hello – most military spouses!), then you may choose to place some of your volunteer positions in a separate volunteer section of your resume. This will help streamline your resume.
Step #2: List community involvement and volunteer positions you currently hold or any ongoing volunteer role you held within the past several years.
You may be tempted to include every single volunteer position that you held over the past 20 years – don’t!
Employers want to see what you’ve been doing the past several years so they know what your current skills are. Unless your volunteer experience from 20 years ago is wildly impressive, odds are it is better to leave it off.
Include name of organization, location, volunteer position title and dates of involvement. Treat your volunteer experience like paid experience and provide all of this information.
This next part is crucial for you if you are using volunteer experience to plug in resume gaps OR if you have more volunteer time than you do paid professional experience: include accomplishment statement bullet points for each volunteer role to highlight your community involvement. Showcase what you did in each volunteer position and how your volunteer efforts helped propel the organization. Use numbers and statistics when possible. Numbers might be boring to you, but to a hiring manager, numbers are everything and show the depth of your accomplishments.
Step #3: Focus on relevant volunteer experience (I know, this is another phrase you’ve heard a million times, but it’s true):
Applying to become a fundraising coordinator? Well, then write about the time you generated over $3,000 for your spouse club or the time that you drafted and mailed thank you letters for in-kind donations.
Seeking a business development position? Emphasize your relationship-building skills that you gained throughout your volunteer roles.
Does that operations manager position call out to you? You may want to focus on your leadership and logistics skills that were involved with overseeing events as an FRG leader to make sure they ran smoothly.
Step #4: Choose your volunteer roles wisely.
Volunteering to fill in resume gaps here and there generally has a higher success rate than making volunteering your career (meaning, you’ve only held volunteer roles throughout your professional adult life).
Volunteering for an established organization (where you can receive great references) also has a higher success rate than volunteering on your own for a cause.
Are you early on in your career or do you have your PhD? The types of volunteer roles you choose may be different based on where you are in your career.
Remember that no 2 resumes are the same. The goal of your resume is to highlight your own strengths, accomplishments, skills and qualifications as they directly relate to the job to which you are applying, and including relevant volunteer experience within the past several years will help you do this!
How do you show your volunteer experience on your resume or LinkedIn profile? Do you list it under your professional experience or under volunteer roles? Tell us in the comments section.
Amy Schofield, an Academy Certified Resume Writer and an Academy Certified Profile Writer, has 12+ years of experience in the recruiting, career coaching, and resume writing fields. She is the founder of Schofield Strategies, LLC TM, an organization that provides resume development and job search strategies to job seekers of various backgrounds and experience levels from around the world.
As an active-duty military spouse, she actively helps transitioning veterans and military spouses reach their career goals. Amy has been featured in GI Jobs, Reserve and National Guard Magazine, Army Wife Talk Radio, and Blue Star Families and serves as the Resume Expert for the National Military Spouse Network. Her work is published in the book Modernize Your Job Search Letters: Get Noticed… Get Hired. Schofield Strategies was the recipient of the 2013 Military Family Member Community Heartbeat Award.