Six Ways to Volunteer for a Job

Kristen Smith

Kristen Smith,

Like many in the military spouse community, I have dedicated hundreds (if not thousands) of hours to Family Readiness Groups, Spouses’ Clubs, kids’ activities and a multitude of other worthy causes. Most of the time I embrace my status as a professional volunteer. There is nothing like a job search, though, to make me question the value of those hours. I know how difficult it was to wrangle a horde of volunteers, coordinate with community members and squeeze out the resources to ensure that my husband’s 19 single soldiers had “welcome home baskets” of linens, toiletries and snacks- but the manager interviewing me probably doesn’t.

Military spouses find themselves considering volunteer options for many reasons. We may be at a duty assignment for a brief amount of time, there may not be jobs available, or we may be transitioning to a new career or field. In any of these situations, here are 6 ways volunteering can get you the experience and opportunity needed to keep your resume relevant and appealing to employers.

Look for volunteer opportunities that utilize the skill sets or experience needed for the job you are seeking.

Are you a teacher waiting for your license to transfer? Look for a volunteer position that includes instructing- like teaching Army Family Team Building classes or assisting  at an after school program. Identify key skills needed to get the job you want, then look for opportunities to perform those skills on a volunteer basis.

Take advantage of volunteer opportunities that include training on a relevant skill.

Many volunteer organizations use the same software and technology that businesses do. If you are willing to take the time to learn, many nonprofits will teach you what you need to know. This adds one more skill to the tool chest you can offer an employer.

Seek out volunteer opportunities within your professional organization.

Most professionals have some sort of local, regional, or national organization that is largely dependent on volunteer efforts. When you are in between employment, this a great opportunity to network within your industry and demonstrate your work ethic directly to potential employers.

It doesn’t need to be military.

There is no doubt that our community is always in need of willing hands and a gracious heart. But there is no need to restrict yourself to military related volunteer opportunities. The Chamber of Commerce, local school districts, YMCAs, food banks, churches, and an untold number of community organizations could also use your skills. There is nothing wrong with offering your help where it will also help you. Choose the opportunity that offers a stepping stone to the career you want.

Don’t overextend and under-perform.

Heard of compassion fatigue? It’s real and it benefits no one. Know and hold to your limits when it comes to volunteering. Even if all you can offer is a couple hours a month, there is an organization that can use your time and talent. It is better to do less and do it well than not be able to deliver on what you’ve promised.

Not finding what you need? Ask if you can create it!

If you aren’t finding a volunteer opportunity that matches up with your career goals, don’t be afraid to ask for it. Contact a nonprofit that could benefit from your skills and make them a proposal. If you can demonstrate how you can benefit the organization, tell them how. Initiating, designing and executing such a project can be a powerful addition to your resume. Document your efforts and track the difference it makes for the organization.

Over the last few years, with my young son at home and the military moving my family four times in four years, I have grown a freelance marketing business largely out of nonprofit work. Anytime I want to add a new service to my offerings, I seek out an opportunity to do it for free for a worthy cause. With the resulting portfolio of work and a grateful testimonial from the organization, I can launch the new service with confidence. While the exact form this will take varies greatly from one industry to another, the basic premise is the same. Anything of value to an employer is also needed by organizations that depend on volunteers. Filling resume gaps in this way benefits both the volunteer and serves a vital need for the nonprofit.

In what way could your professional experience benefit a nonprofit organization? Have you sought an opportunity to volunteer in that capacity?


200x200 buttonKristen Smith spends her days doing a passable impression of an octopus. With a four year old son, messy husband, 2 dogs and a horse, she picks up new hobbies compulsively and has trouble saying no to volunteer needs. In her spare time (mostly when she’s suffering from insomnia), she has built a successful small business marketing service KLSmith Creative, serves as the blog coordinator for Army Wife Network, and blogs about her search for balance and adventures in the kitchen at Authentic Plate.

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