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Volunteer Work is Work Experience

You have organized the unit mandatory fun day and the spouses’ luncheons.

You have worked with dozens of Cub Scouts every week for an exhausting year.

You have taught Vacation Bible School, handled the finances for the FRG and took notes during the PTA meetings.

You have put in hundreds of volunteer hours over the years. Now, do yourself a favor. Put all that experience on paper. It can help you find a job.

When my husband’s orders took us overseas, I was excited at the prospect of finding a new job. New challenges. New co-workers to meet. New experiences.

After six months of searching, I was over it. And entrenched myself in volunteer work, nearly 40 hours a week worth, for four different organizations.

I managed organizations of 100+ people. I handled finances in excess of $50,000. I planned, organized and executed a week-long event for over 300 scouts.

Sounds like work to me.

And it is.

At our next duty station, after four years out of the actual workforce but with hundreds of volunteer hours under my belt, that is what was at the top of my resume. And those experiences are why I was hired at my current, paying job.

Your volunteer work is you, at work, exercising your soft and hard skillsets - managing people, data, events and even equipment. Non-profits rely on the expertise of volunteers who can give not just their time, but their abilities.

On your resume, when you list volunteer work, don’t just list the organization. Bullet point each of your responsibilities and accomplishments as well as any accolades you receive. And do not be modest. Were you an integral part of a fundraising campaign? How much did you raise? How many more volunteers did you sign up? How many people attended your events?

Employers know volunteer work can be hard work. Show them what you’ve done. Show them what you can do for them too as a paid employee.

And those organizations you worked so hard for? Ask your supervisor there to be a reference. If you were a volunteer the non-profit relied on to get the job done, they will be happy to tell a future employer that. 

And if you are out of work and need work experience? Find a non-profit to volunteer for, and see it as a job, not just a volunteer thing you do once in a while. Commit to the cause and the tasks that organization needs completed. Do your best work, see the project through, consider it to be your job. You will gain work experience, resume fodder and will probably have a great time.

Tax Refunds - This is Not A Bonus Check

By Amanda Rebmann

April 15th.  Tax deadline day.  Every year we account for our earnings over the past year and to ensure both the federal and state governments have collected the amounts granted them by law (thanks 16th Amendment!) 

Remember- we are a country founded by rather wealthy men who objected to taxation.  Times have certainly changed, and I do NOT advocate going to your local IRS with a bucket of tar and a bag of feathers.  The old adage is true: death and taxes are certain.

Many people dutifully gather up receipts, interest statements, W2s or 1099s each year, head off to the accountant or online tax service, and hope for the best.  A refund is seen as a positive thing; for most people it’s certainly better than owing the government money.  I speak from experience- that is never a good feeling, especially if you hadn’t prepared for it.  So taxes get filed and you start planning what to do with that refund.  Many people use it for vacations, home improvements, an extra mortgage payment, or, like yours truly this year, helping to pay closing costs for a new home.

What may get lost in the euphoria of the money is that it’s not a bonus check for being an American taxpayer- it’s the government giving you back your own money . . . that you’ve allowed them to borrow interest-free.  Many people aren’t aware that you don’t have to.

There are ways to estimate how much you actually will owe in taxes before you pay them.  If you make a salary or know how much you will be making in a year, this can be very easy.  It does become more complicated if you’re self-employed, seasonal, or make commissions or tips.  There are online calculators, one on the IRS website, or simply fill out a sample 1040 to determine your yearly tax amount due. 

Once you determine that amount, you can adjust how much your employer withholds from your paycheck in taxes.  When you start a new job, one of the documents your employer has you fill out and sign is the W4.  It establishes how much of your paycheck is automatically sent to the government each pay period.  If you need to adjust this amount- increase it to avoid owing taxes or decrease it to avoid receiving a refund, you may do this at any time, not just when you start a job.  Altering your W4 will change the amounts taken for your “Federal Income Tax” or “Federal Withholding.”

The opposite works too.  The self-employed, or people receiving 1099 income (no taxes deducted), can be faced with a large tax bill due April 15th.  To avoid having to deal with the IRS if you do not have the enough saved to pay, you can estimate how much in taxes you will owe, than divide that into smaller amounts you can set aside during the year- for instance, monthly or biweekly. 

Whether or not to adjust withheld tax amounts depends on the person and circumstances.  By only having the correct amount withheld, you have more personal control over your money- theoretically, more money in your paychecks.  But a lot of us like that nice direct deposit showing up in our bank accounts every year.  It’s like a free, little savings account . . . that you don’t make any interest on.  But, much like a trip to the grocery store with a garbage bag full of empty bottles for a deposit refund, it does feel like “new” money, doesn’t it?

Upcoming Job Fairs for Military Spouses

Already on the PCS move? Need a job? You might be able to drop in on a hiring fair at your new duty station or even on the road to your new home!

The U.S Chamber of Commerce Foundation is hosting Hiring Fairs all month with Hiring Our Heroes, an organization committed to helping military members and their spouses find jobs.

Check out this month’s list below. Be sure to click on the link and register. Slots fill up quickly and there are no walk-ins allowed.

When you go, be sure to dress for success and bring a stack of copies of your resume and a smile.

Good luck!

April 29

Nellis AFB, NV

http://www.uschamberfoundation.org/event/nellis-air-force-base-military-spouse-hiring-fair

May 6

Camden, NJ

http://www.uschamberfoundation.org/event/camden-hiring-fair

May 7

Richmond, VA

http://www.uschamberfoundation.org/event/richmond-hiring-fair-0

May 11

Austin, TX

http://www.uschamberfoundation.org/event/austin-hiring-fair

May 12

Fort Hood, TX

http://www.uschamberfoundation.org/event/fort-hood-military-spouse-hiring-fair

May 20

Boston

http://www.uschamberfoundation.org/event/boston-hiring-expo-boston-red-sox

May 21

Atlanta

http://www.uschamberfoundation.org/event/atlanta-hiring-fair

Pensacola

http://www.uschamberfoundation.org/event/pensacola-hiring-fair

June 3

Fort Bliss

http://www.uschamberfoundation.org/events/hiringfairs?page=1

June 5

San Juan, Puerto Rico

http://www.uschamberfoundation.org/event/san-juan-hiring-fair

 

Grammar - Going Back to School? You Need to Get it Right!

Recently, an editing client I work with called something to my attention. He is writing his thesis for his master’s degree, and … well, really it was his terrible misuse of common words that got me thinking.

Around the fourth page of red-pen hell, I realized that it is fairly common that adults who have returned to academia have forgotten many basic rules of writing. Forgetting those things is fair, to be honest. As adults, we’ve had to make room in our brains for things that are much more important, like our Twitter password and our kids’ birthdays.

So, because my brain works in a way that allows me to remember all of those writing rules but forces me make a really dumb sound every time someone asks me one of my kids’ birthdays, I’m going to give you some quick homonym memory cheat sheet!

They’re: A contraction of they are.

                 This is correct - “They’re going to ace this test.”

                 This is wrong – “That is they’re cat.”

There:    An indication of a location.

                 This is correct - “The ice cream is right there.”

                 This is wrong – “That is there cat.”

Their:     An indication of ownership.

                 This is correct - “That is their cat.”

                 This is wrong – “The car is over their.”

Two:        A number.

                 This is correct - “There are two cats.”

                 This is wrong – “I will go two the store.”

To:            An indication of physical or implied direction (usually).

                 This is correct - “I walked to school.”

                 This is wrong – “There are to wheels on that bicycle.”

Too:         An addition to something, or an indication of something excessive.

                 This is correct - “There are too many cooks."

                 This is wrong – “I want too scoops of ice cream.”

You’re:    A contraction of you are.

                 This is correct - “You’re an awesome golfer.”

                 This is wrong – “You’re feet smell bad.”

Your:      An indication of ownership

                 This is correct - “That is your car.”

                 This is wrong – “Your always bugging me.”

Yore:       A really, really long time ago.

                 This is correct - “Those are from the days of yore.”

                 This is wrong – “Yore burning that toast.”

Now, any time you have a question about which word to use (or if you want to punk people for using your the wrong way in their Facebook post), you have a handy reference!  Hooray! 

Now stop judging my nerd-excitement.

 

Military Spouses: Score a Nonprofit Job Now!

Military spouses, did you know the good news that you don’t have to choose between your passion for helping charitable organizations and collecting a paycheck?

In the 2015 Nonprofit Employment Practices Survey, nonprofits report a continued trend of increasing their staff size. Half of the 362 respondents anticipate creating new positions and one-third of them reported they might create new ones.

And, the good news gets better. The top four areas in which they plan to hire are direct services, program management/support, fundraising development and education/community outreach, areas that likely overlap with your volunteer work.

Finally, the best news is, “In today’s competitive environment, employers of nonprofits seek many of the same skill sets from job seekers as employers of for-profit organizations,” said Jennifer Takacs-O’Shea, president of Caterpillar Career Consultants.

Take advantage of this upswing in nonprofit hiring to score a job. Here’s how.

Align Your Volunteerism and Career

“Find an organization, outside of the workplace to partner with and contribute your efforts towards the goals of a charitable group that complements your interests,” said O’Shea. “These pursuits can range from participation in your local PTA, to chairing a committee and spearheading an event for a national organization. Whether big or small, become active and participate towards a cause that aligns with your benevolent vision.”

Then, use this involvement to learn about the culture, meet and become visible to others in the nonprofit arena and showcase or build your skills.

Have a Social Media Strategy

While 68 percent of the surveyed nonprofits do not have a formal social media recruitment strategy, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have one. They do use LinkedIn (70 percent), Facebook (53 percent) and Twitter (26 percent) to recruit. But, be aware that there is more to online research than what meets the eye on these platforms.

“Use the internet as much as possible for more than just finding vacancies,” said Jeff Bockelman, career behaviorist and personal branding expert. “You can learn a lot about nonprofit employers by reading their blogs and newsletters, and by looking at the backgrounds of the people they hire.”

Then, apply that knowledge to your job search efforts.

Prove Your Hard Skills

All those volunteer hours might count for solid work experience that could get you a job. Technical skills are an indisputable asset if you can show that you have them, regardless of where you used them and especially when results are attached to them.

“Most nonprofits can’t just “do good” and not worry about the bottom line,” said Bockelman. “Having a nonprofit status is more about the business structure and tax reporting. They still need to make money (in order to operate) and therefore still have profitable behaviors.”

Make sure you show how your skills can help the organization meet its goals because the bottom line will always be results.

Prove Your Soft Skills Too

Soft skills and personal characteristics are also important.

“Nonprofits appreciate demonstrated passion and dedication outside of the workplace,” said O’Shea. “Hard-working professionals who find the means to contribute their efforts outside of the office towards the betterment of others speak volumes to their fervor for causes and their willingness to give of themselves to become a part of something greater than themselves.”

Use Relationships and Affiliations to Connect

For nonprofits, relationships can be huge assets. A full 91 percent of the respondents use a network of friends and colleagues as one of their primary recruiting sources. So, use your networks, too!   

“When successfully networking within the nonprofit world, many will find additional opportunities than what’s being posted on popular job boards,” said O’Shea.

Professional and personal affiliations could also help.  

“As Military spouses, you can weave that (affiliation) into your marketing ‘story’ to capitalize on the pride our country has,” said Bockelman. “In fact, you could be hired because of it, but they still have to be able to justify the hire based on your skills.”

O’Shea sums it up well.

“At the end of the day, all organizations are seeking top-notch professionals to help grow their organization, achieve goals and support their mission, ensuring satisfaction of the stakeholders and communities they serve.”

Congress Won't Care Until You Do

Congress is currently reviewing a bill that will ease the financial burden for PCSing spouses who have to transfer their professional licenses from state to state.

That means when a spouse studies and works for two years to finally earn her professional license, only to receive PCS orders a week later, all the money she shelled out, and will now have to pay again in the next state, she can apply as a tax credit for that year (up to$500).

Sounds great, right?

It's likely to never happen.

The bill is sitting in the senate finance committee. There has been no vote, no discussion, no movement.

Historically, between 2013 and now only 15 percent of the bills sent to the senate finance committee made it to the next step in the legislative process. Of those, only 3 percent became law.

And this bill has a very specific audience, military spouses. Even more specifically, military spouses who hold state licenses.

There will be no marches. Little news coverage. Little notice when it never passes.

Again, we are on our own.

Military spouses must make their needs known to Congress. Writer your congressman. Tell them how important this is. Why should we continue to pay over and over again just to be employed? Why should we be penalized because the military requires us to move over and over again.

We shouldn't.

But no one is going to care until we do.

Contact your congressman. Over and over again until someone starts listening. It is the only way to make our needs known.

Track this bill: https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/114/s210

Find your congressman: http://www.contactingthecongress.org/

Didn’t Get Your Taxes Done?

The tax man has come and gone. Still holding that blank form in your hand, unmailed?

Umm, you may want to take care of that, today.

If you have it filled out and ready to go and just never made it to the post office, go. Now.

If you never filled it out and need more time, apply for an extension. Visit this link: http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f4868.pdf to fill out a Form 4868 for more time to do your math. This will give you until Oct. 15.

If you don’t owe money, you will have no penalty for not filing on time. However, if the IRS owes you a refund, the longer you take to turn the form in, the longer it takes to get your refund.

If you owe the IRS money, you were required to have the bulk of that money turned in by April 15 to avoid fees and penalties. So, begin coming to terms with the fact that you will very likely be paying fees and penalties.

If you know you owe money but cannot pay, you need to file anyway. The IRS clock begins ticking today. Fees begin on April 16 and will continue to be assessed until you pay them. Unlike unpaid credit card bills that you might be able to wiggle out of, the IRS will eventually find you. Unpaid taxes can result in jail time for the worst offenders.

Once you file you can work with the IRS to set up a payment plan to give them what you owe. They are willing to work with you, but cannot do so until you file and give them a call.

If you are military serving in a combat zone, or the spouse of a military member in a combat zone you may qualify for an automatic extension. Note, the rule specifies combat zone, not simply those who live overseas.

The IRS outlines the rules in detailed format on this page: http://www.irs.gov/uac/Extension-of-Deadlines-%E2%80%94-Combat-Zone-Service

The point is, if you are still holding that form, you have missed the deadline. You will do yourself no favors to hide from the IRS. Visit the IRS webpage to find the correct office to contact for your situation http://www.irs.gov/uac/How-to-Contact-the-IRS-1

And then get moving. Time is now money lost to fees and penalties.

Cool Jobs: Air Force Husband Opens Dive Shop in Hawaii

Air Force husband Michael Kurt first looked for work after PCSing to Hawaii with his wife, Christine, for one simple reason: the family needed extra money to send their son to private school.

He landed a job at the NEX in Honolulu, working in the toy section. Across the aisle, however, is where his future waited. The local business, Dive Oahu, ran a booth inside the Navy exchange and Michael spent his extra time chatting with employees there about the sport of scuba.

He learned that the MyCAA program, Military Spouse Career Advancement Accounts, would pay for his classes. Later, his wife could transfer her 9-11 GI Bill benefits to him so that he could study scuba full time and earn more credentials.

Now, Michael is a certified scuba instructor, is working towards his master instructor certification and is preparing to buy the first boat for his new company, Imperial Divers.

“From the first moment I entered the program, I was hooked,” he said.

The experience was life changing. Michael was “raised in the Army and decided to upgrade and married to the Air Force,” he said with a chuckle. Christine has spent 14 years in the Air Force and the couple has been married 12. Michael said his job has been to help and be the supportive military spouse.

When he discovered his passion for diving, Christine reciprocated.

“You need a good support system and I have a phenomenal support system,” he said. “My biggest support is Christine. Having a spouse that believes in you – there is nothing greater than that.”

Now, the family has opened Imperial Divers and will be purchasing the outfit’s first dive boat this year.

“We’re super excited about that,” he said.

The couple has built the framework for the business as a service based industry, he said. They cater to their customers and are willing to teach them scuba where they are comfortable – on the beach, in their home, hanging at a restaurant – never in uncomfortable desks in a classroom.

And most importantly, they aim to keep their students diving.

“An instructor of mine told me once you certify someone, keep them diving and the request to get more certifications will naturally fall into place. I took it to heart and went out and took people diving for free, just had a good time and sure as could be, here I was selling more classes just because I was taking people out for free,” Michael said.

Michael also teaches for one of the dive schools located on the Army base in Hawaii. There he found that students who suffered from PTSD found that being under the water helped their symptoms. Christine and Michael’s dream is to open a scuba shop where PTSD sufferers can have access to mental health counselors and scuba.

And, Hawaii is not their last stop. The pair have plans to establish their business in Hawaii and then open shops in New Zealand, the Philippines and Fiji so their clients can move between the four locations and experience some of the best dive locations on the planet.

These are big dreams, Michael knows that. But, he is growing and learning along the way.

His advice for other spouses, “First, never use your own money. That’s a sure way to failure. Rule number two, you will fail and you cannot give up. If you really believe in your dream and you want to make it happen you absolutely have to keep fighting. There will be crushing setbacks where you think you can’t go on but you have to continue. You know the old cliché, nothing ventured, nothing gained? You’ve got to take risks.”

And, what’s a better risk than living your dream job?

 

The Wandering Life Embrace the Overseas PCS!

By Jan Childs

Want the adventure of a lifetime? Take advantage of the opportunity to do an overseas tour.

According to a December, 2013 Department of Defense report, some 66,000 U.S. military members were stationed in Germany and another 39,000 in Japan. – the two regions servicemembers are most likely to be able to bring their families along for a two- or three-year tour.

About 13,000 military personnel are stationed in Alaska, and 23,000 in Hawaii. While those are not considered overseas, both locations are known as a tour “Outside of the Continental United States,” or OCONUS, and can also be great opportunities to experience different cultures and ways of life.

My husband and I have spent almost 15 years, out of 24 in the Army, living OCONUS – first in Hawaii, then on to Okinawa and Korea. We are on our third tour in Germany, and even lived for a year in Canada.

We’re very lucky to have been offered so many opportunities to live far and wide. It’s an experience not all of us get to have. But if you do get the chance, don’t be afraid. Take the leap!

The military gives us a great advantage when living overseas. We get to see the world, but in most cases we still get to buy American groceries, have American neighbors, bring our American stuff and maintain 24/7 connectivity to friends and family back home thanks to the internet and cell phones.

What more could you ask for?

Yes, it’s daunting. When we moved to Hawaii I was 23-years-old and had never lived more than a few hours from my parents. My husband was gone a lot and I was alone a lot (does that ever end, by the way?). But the lessons I learned in Hawaii and the growing up I did there were invaluable.

I learned to be self-reliant, make friends in a very unfamiliar place, try new foods and reach out to people in the local communities. I made my first lifelong “military” friends there, friends I still keep in touch with today.

Since then, we’ve had adventures too numerous to count. There was the time I was on a train in Thailand and almost got off at the wrong stop in the middle of the night. The time I flew Space-A to Singapore with a friend, just because we could. The time I had a baby in Korea. The time I took my kids to Scotland for spring break, without my husband.

There are challenges to living overseas, no doubt. Language and cultural barriers can be intimidating. Driving is a whole other story. And food? For a picky eater like me, it’s a nightmare.

In the coming months in this blog, I’ll share those adventures and challenges with you, along with lots of advice for living overseas. Welcome to my wandering life!

 

Legislation Aims to Ease License Costs for PCSing Spouses

Samantha Mahon worked as a paramedic in Charleston, S.C. when, in 2011, her husband, a sailor in the United States Navy, got orders to Norfolk, Va.

Because Virginia offered reciprocity, or the ability to practice her job under the license of a different state, she was able to continue working as a paramedic after the move, in Portsmouth, Va., for a private transport company.

But when her daughter started experiencing seizures, and she needed more time off to take care of her and her two young sons, she quit her job in hopes of finding a more family-friendly, flexible career path.

While seeing her daughter through brain surgery, she went through esthetician’s school, finishing in early 2013 and working as a licensed esthetician immediately.

Then her husband got orders for a move to Kings Bay, Ga., in November 2013.

During the move, she contacted the Georgia licensing boards, but they were largely unreceptive to helping her find future employment there until she had a Georgia mailing address.

So she completed the move and inquired into continuing her private esthetician in her state of residence.

She put in her application and application fee - $75 – and was immediately denied a Georgia esthetician’s license because Georgia requires 1,000 hours of cosmetology school, where Virginia only required 700.

“It’s so hard to weed through because there are so many requirements from state to state.  It’s ridiculous.  And no one is at all helpful,” she said.

Not willing to give up yet, Mahon spoke with the state, who agreed that if she worked under a Georgia-licensed esthetician for the additional 300 hours, she would meet the Georgia requirements, even though she had already worked as an esthetician in Virginia for six months after she finished school.

So she found a job working as a receptionist at a salon, paying $8 an hour.  Meanwhile, her childcare costs were $10 an hour, so she was only able to swing that for two months before she quit.

She’s now a certified birth doula, a partner and couch for laboring and delivering pregnant women, because no state licenses doulas, and they can move and maintain a job and income and certification.

Moving is expensive and can be costly, especially for military spouses like Mahon, who do so frequently and often carry a stigma with them when applying for jobs in their new home state.

Which is why the federal government has reviewed and considered some variation of compensation for wives leaving jobs and licenses when PCS-ing to a different state since 2009.

And currently the Military Spouse Job Continuity Act of 2015 is before the Ways and Means Committee in Congress, hoping to cushion the financial blow from seeking a new license after a PCS, said Karen A. Golden, deputy director of government relations for the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA).

“The act would credit $500 against your taxable income for spouses seeking a new license or certification following a PCS,” Golden said.

For example, if a dental hygienist moves from Pennsylvania to Tennessee on the military’s orders and incurs a $250 licensing fee to work as a dental hygienist in her state of residence, she can apply for a tax credit of up to $500 on her federal income taxes that year.

This applies to anyone making a stateside move as a military spouse and has a wide range of effect, Golden said.

Bartenders, nail technicians teachers, nurses, social workers, and estheticians like Mahon – plus many others - all could benefit from the Act, Golden said.

According to the 2014 spouse employment report by MOAA, military spouses spend an average of $280 on licensing fees after a PCS, and 35 percent of all working military spouses need state licenses or certifications to legally do their job.

“This is impactful to many,” Golden said.

Which is why MOAA has been “making a concentrated effort to visit congressional representative’s offices” to educate them about the importance of the bill for military families, Golden said.

Military spouses who want to lobby congressional representatives themselves can find a message here - http://capwiz.com/moaa/issues/bills/?bill=64083976 - which they can personalize.

 

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