Volunteer Experience = Work Experience

Directly above photograph of a resume title page.

By Rose Holland

Last week I talked about strategic volunteerism, this week I want to discuss what your volunteer experience can bring to your resume. How many times have you heard a military spouse insist they have no work experience? These same spouses have run events, managed programs and created marketing campaigns. They have plenty of work experience; they just were not paid for it! Your volunteer work is work and can (and should) be listed on your resume.

Get Organized! The first thing I recommend is stepping back and making a list of the volunteer work you have been involved with over the past ten years. Documenting your volunteer work is important. Do you have a “love me” book? If not, now is a good time to create one. This portfolio complies you experience. Some things you might to help you in documenting your work include:

  • Job descriptions: If you are volunteering for as a part of any military organization, you likely have a formal job description. If you do not ask for one or create your own.
  • Evaluations: On a job you normally receive formal evaluations. Your supervising paid staff member, volunteer manager, or commander may be willing to meet with you to do this. Some volunteer positions provide regular written evaluations.
  • Certificates and Awards: These will document your experience and will usually outline specific accomplishments for you. Keep the write-up for the award as this will provide you with more specifics.
  • Samples of projects or work: Newsletters, event plans, training presentations and reports are examples of these.
  • Photos: of you preforming volunteer work, an event you organized, being presented with an award or of a special project.
  • News Stories: Keep copies of articles about you that have appeared in the local or installation newspaper, snapshots of social media, interview videos, etc.
  • Volunteer Time Records: You should be keeping track of your volunteer hours. While you may think this is unimportant, if you are applying for a federal job this can prove your experience level.
  • Letters of Reference: Before you leave any job (volunteer or paid), ask for a letter of reference.

In addition to a hard copy, I recommend saving your “Love Me” book electronically in multiple locations. Do not just save the information on your computer’s hard drive as if it crashes you will lose everything (personal experience talking). Think about saving the information to the cloud, on your Google or drop box drive, uploaded onto draft emails or on a CD or memory stick.

Translate your Jobs to the Corporate World. Now that you are organized, it is time to look at what you can bring to the paid workforce. Make a list of the organizations you have supported, dates and positions you have held. What is your role or title? Is there an equivalent title for this job in a work environment? A Family Readiness Group Leader, Key Spouse or Ombudsman may be a manager. A family day organizer may be an event planner. What tasks do you preform or roles do you play in your volunteer role? Make a list – think like a business owner. What was the mission of the organization and how did you contribute? How does this position affect the bottom line? Remember, a business wants to know how you are going to make them money, save them money or make them more efficient.

From this information, build a list of accomplishments. Accomplishments are going to help you really stand out. The accomplishments on your resume should be directly related to the position you are applying for. One way to look at building accomplishments is the CCAR format.

  • Context – title of your job or role you are playing in this example; the context sets the stage for your story.
  • Challenge – what was the challenge of this example or project? Why is this a good example for this particular job duty?
  • Action – what were your specific actions in this case? How do they show your mastery of this specific job duty?
  • Results – what happened? Again, how does this relate to the specific job duty?

This format helps you look at what you have done and the results.

As you apply for positions, you will be addressing specific job postings. Say you are applying for a position and one of the job duties is to provide marketing support. A Family Readiness Group Leader, Key Spouse or Ombudsman might easily be able to address this specific position. Look at a situation they might face:

  • Context – Served as the leader at a unit with little family involvement
  • Challenge – there was little participation in unit events and needed to get more families to attend
  • Action – created unit Facebook page, wrote monthly newsletter and gave briefings to unit members at battle assemblies
  • Results – brought attendance at events from 98 to 145

How might you word this on a resume?

  • Created a multi-pronged marketing campaign consisting of social media, newsletters and briefings improving attendance at events by approximately 150%.
  • Increased event participation from 98 to 145 through the creation of a multi-pronged marketing campaign utilizing social media, newsletters and in-person briefings.
  • Managed events for approximately100 to 150 to include all logistics, marketing and recruitment of volunteer staff.

If you were a manager, would you want to hire someone who had accomplished this? Of course! This is thinking like a business owner or manager. If you can think like this, you are on your way to building a strong resume showing off your volunteer work experience.

Blue Star Families has a great tool to help you with this task. This toolkit provides examples of volunteer positions, identifies typical tasks and provides sample accomplishments. https://www.bluestarfam.org/resources/blue-star-spouse-employment-toolkit.

Do Not Do it Alone! There are many ways to get some help as you build your resume. If you are near an installation, go to the Employment Readiness Program professionals at your family center (Airman and Family Readiness Center, Army Community Service, Coast Guard Work Life, Fleet and Family Support Center or Marine Corps Family Readiness Center). These professionals can assist you in developing the your resume and identifying your accomplishments. They offer workshops on building resumes.

Many places can assist if you are not near an installation. Military One Source has career counselors through the Military Spouse Employment Partnership and Spouse Education and Career Opportunities programs (www.militaryonesource.mil). Hiring our Heroes can help you build a resume through Career Spark. This tool was created in partnership with corporate partners specifically for military spouses as a way to translate their volunteer experience into corporate resume. (https://www.mycareerspark.org) Your local America’s Job Center can assist. You can find the nearest location at http://www.servicelocator.org/.

Do Not be Afraid to Make the Leap! Your volunteer experience provides you with a great jumping off point. Take the leap and know the value you provide to an organization. Your volunteer experience and accomplishments is work experience that is sought after in the corporate world.

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