Bridging Employment Gaps: Strategies from a Military Spouse
By Stefani Schomaker
As a military spouse who has relocated across the country or overseas nearly every two years, I have frequent employment gaps in my work history. It's an exciting and dynamic way to live but it places serious roadblocks in my path as a Career Counselor. As unemployment rises in our country and the pool of job seekers deepens, many Americans will also encounter gaps in employment. Over the years, I have found several tactics to keep my professional skills and experience current no matter what obstacles I encounter. Active career services professionals can easily share these with clients as well.
Try to connect with an organization about which you feel passionate. Your work will reflect that passion while you keep your job skills current or even improve upon them. Some volunteer opportunities are more charity or community-oriented while others are more professional. Either way, your volunteer work shows a potential employer that you have a sense of civic duty or a solid commitment to your craft.
Charity/Community examples include:
- Food Banks - Meals on Wheels (mowaa.org)/local churches
- Literacy - Local Libraries/ Reading is Fundamental (rif.org)
- United Way (LiveUnited.org) and American Red Cross (redcross.org) - both can link you to nearby volunteer opportunities
Professional examples include:
- Accounting - American Accounting Association/American Institute of CPA's/United Way Free Tax Preparation for underprivileged
- Sales - Toastmasters/The National Association of Sales Professionals
- Woodworking/Cabinet Making - The Cabinet Makers Association, Local Woodworking Clubs
- NCDA - view all committees online and use the contact information to get involved!
Most national organizations have local chapters in major cities. For additional local groups, read the Business or Living section of your area newspaper and find the calendar of meetings, seminars, workshops, etc.
II. Social/Personal Interest Organizations
Groups like Officers' Spouses' Clubs (a military group), running clubs, or Parent/Teacher/Student Associations offer unique opportunities for job seekers because you can hold an office that is directly related to your field. For example, those interested in accounting, bookkeeping or finances can be Treasurers. Those interested in sales and marketing can be Fundraising Chairs. Those interested in management and human resources, can be Club Presidents. Even if you hold an office that isn't directly related to your career field, you can diversify your skills and show employers that you are willing and able to take on a leadership role.
III. Temporary Services
From my experience, these companies are underutilized by job seekers. First of all, they can provide income while you're job hunting. Second, while their positions may be temporary and lower level, they will eventually have higher level, full time positions open. If they like your work and you're qualified, they will ask you for an interview.
Temporary employment provides face-to-face contact and a compatibility factor that a resume and cover letter cannot. You can find reputable services in your area through the Chamber of Commerce or the Better Business Bureau. You may want to sign up with more than one service to broaden your network and assignment options. Also, if you're seeking employment with a specific company, you can find out which services they use and register with them.
IV. Substitute Teaching
Every school district I've lived in has had a need for substitute teachers. According to www.teachnology.com, most districts only require a Bachelor's Degree. Some benefits of being a substitute teacher are:
- Pay is comparable with other part-time jobs, if not better, depending on school districts
- Work schedules are flexible - you work when you want
- You can choose the school and age group
- If you have children, your work coincides with their school schedule
V. Professional Certifications/Training
Updating your skills is another option to further develop your resume and differentiate yourself from other candidates. It's important to talk to professionals in your field and do your homework before investing time and money into this strategy. However, if you find it relevant, it can increase your network of professionals, improve your expertise, and possibly boost your starting salary. Some examples of fields that utilize certifications are: Education, Information Technology, Finance, and Fitness.
Here's the kicker! Besides building skills and experience while in-between jobs, all of these methods double as networking tools which are key in making job connections in any community. Additionally, these strategies get you up, put together, dressed, and out of the house. It's important to look and feel professional while looking for work. It gets you in the right frame of mind for networking, following leads, writing and tracking correspondence. Look the part; get the part. Show potential employers that you are not waiting around for opportunities to come to you: You are a go-getter who thrives on adversity and who takes an active role in shaping your own destiny!
Stefani Schomaker, M.S., is from Tigard, Oregon. She received her B.S. in Fashion Merchandising from Oregon State University and graduated with an M.S. in Counseling from Texas A&M University - Corpus Christi. She has a diverse work background which includes: sales, merchandising, management, training, staffing and career counseling. Her experience with counseling has been through career counseling students/alumni at college campuses and soldiers/spouses in the military. She has been a military spouse for eight years. Currently, she is utilizing her strategies from this article to find a counseling niche in the Greater Cincinnati area. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org