Volunteering as a Career Strategy

In a perfect world, you would always be able to land the job of your dreams and get down to the business of building and growing a solid career. Sadly, we all know that perfection can be somewhat lacking from PCS move to move.

To get by in our imperfect world, we military spouses often have to improvise in order to work toward that goal of advancing our own careers.

One strategy, often underrated and overlooked, is volunteerism. It's a highly effective strategy worth implementing anywhere along your professional journey.

Volunteerism offers you the opportunity to write your own job description. Depending upon where you want to work, you may have the flexibility to focus on projects or tasks of your own choice. Paid employees don't always have that luxury.

Volunteering allows you to network for paid employment. This is a powerful plus to the whole concept of working for free. While you are in the process of seeking a paycheck, volunteering can get your smiling face right out there in front of those you want most to impress.

This is particularly useful if you are able to wait for the "right" job rather than any decent opportunity that pops up. Not only does volunteering keep your skills current and your resume as free of time gaps as possible, but it is also an effective way to become acquainted with a new community when you PCS into it.

Volunteering also allows you time to explore different career options. It gives you an opportunity to learn new skills or rekindle the efficiency of rusty ones. This can be especially helpful if you are trying to transition back into the workplace after taking time off from it.

It is also the answer to the dilemma of how you gain work experience to do a specific job if you've never worked in that job before.


Select your volunteer job carefully. Don't just accept any opportunity that rolls around. Take the time to honestly reflect on what it is you would like to get out of the whole experience.

Do you want to learn a new skill or perhaps challenge yourself by working on a difficult project? Get leadership experience?

You need to know what your goal is, so that you can then identify potential opportunities that may actually provide the right experience for you. Don't be concerned if your dream job doesn't exist. This just might be the opportunity for you to create it yourself.

Make the necessary contacts and put forth your proposal. In essence, you will be calling the employer and asking if they are interested in interviewing you.

Once you've obtained a volunteer position, treat it with the same consideration you would paid employment. Keep to a schedule. Show up on time. Meet your deadlines. Manage the job the way you would any other position you have held.

Keep in mind, however, that you do have the ability to control the workload as you go along.

volunteering your time and expertise is not just a "feel good" thing to do. Besides offering you a genuine sense of satisfaction and an opportunity to give back to your community, it also keeps you from becoming complacent about your job search or career status.


SOURCE: Adapted from Janet I. Farley, The Military Spouse's Complete Guide to Career Success (Impact Publications), pages 41-42. Copyright 2008. All rights reserved. See also, by Janet Farley, The Military Spouse's Employment Guide: Smart Job Choices for Mobile Lifestyles, copyright 2012.