This past week someone asked me to review a resume for an entry level government position, a GS-5 level. This particular person had a master’s degree and is working on his second. A master’s degree will normally qualify you for a GS-9 level position based on education alone. I wanted to put my hands on my hips, stomp my right foot and give the person a scolding look. It frustrates me when people shortchange themselves. I would like to say this was an isolated incident, but it was not. More than one foreign spouse thought their education and experience counted for nothing now that they were in the states. Spouses who planned events and raised thousands of dollars insisted they had no experience because they were not paid for their work. Veterans, even senior officers and NCO’s, think their military experience means nothing! Why do we insist on shortchanging ourselves?
I have a theory that part of the challenge in the military community is that we are surrounded by excellence. We are so used to the excellence expected throughout our communities that we dismiss our accomplishments as ordinary. Running events for 150 participants, everyone does that, right? Well, no, not really. We need to recognize that what we do matters and has value.
So, the big question is, how do you change how you look at yourself?
Start by making a list of your skills. Look at job postings and think like a manager. How do your skills match up to the position? What have you done that could translate to that position? I met with one spouse who stated she had no skills, had not worked or volunteered. She wanted to help children with special needs. Why? Because she had adopted and raised three special needs children and helped them obtain independent living. As she started listing the skills she learned, she recognized that she could do more than work as an aid. She documented her personal experience in the field as an advocate on her resume. She applied for, and got, an advocate position.
Document accomplishments and create a “Love Me” book. Now that you know your skills, make a list of accomplishments. If you do not yet have a “Love Me” book, create one! Put together all of your certificates and awards. Document your paid and volunteer work. Include samples of your work and projects. Add photos of you and your team at events, be sure to caption them and include names and contact information. Make a list of what you did, how you did it and the results, focusing on the impact for each position you have held – paid or volunteer. Collect quantifiable data related to your positions (think dollar amounts, numbers and percentages). Document the impact on the organization itself and your customers. The Blue Star Family Employment Toolkit can help you understand how to better document your volunteer experience.
Do not try to do this in isolation. Talk to your former employers, colleagues and those you have volunteered with you. What do they see that you have accomplished? What do they see as your strongest skills? Ask them to help you write accomplishment statements related to your work. I have done this myself and found both colleagues and supervisors more than willing to help. One colleague pulled statistics so I could have quantifiable information in my resume. A supervisor reminded me of projects done for the department and clients I had helped. With their assistance, I was able to document my experience into my resume. If you have lost touch with some of these people, look on LinkedIn to see if you can reconnect.
Use your resources! Excellent (and free) resources are plentiful. Use the career counselors at your family center’s Employment Readiness Program. The Department of Defense has two programs for spouses, the Spouse Education and Career Opportunities and Military Spouse Employment Partnership. Transitioning service members and their spouses can utilize the Transition Assistance Program (recommended at least one year out if Ending Term of Service and two years out when retiring). National Guard families have the National Guard Employment Network (NGEN); Reserve families have the Private Public Partnership (P3). Both of these programs are often “purple,” meaning all services can utilize their programs. Many of the NGEN and P3 reach out to veterans and their families as well. Discuss your education and experience (both paid and unpaid) in light of your chosen career with a professional. These professionals can help you better understand your skill sets and assist you in documenting your accomplishments in relation to your career field.
So stop downplaying all you have accomplished be it in paid or unpaid work. Give yourself some credit and celebrate all you have done and can do! Share with us your proudest accomplishment in the paid or unpaid world. Let us start celebrating the amazing things we do right now!
Rose Holland is the spouse of an Active Duty Army Reservist and is an advocate for military and veteran families. She has three adult children and has been married to her husband, Michael, for over 30 years. She is a certified Workforce Development Professional, Federal Career Coach and Job Search Trainer.