Career decisions are never easy to make. When your spouse is a military member, a whole new level of complications come into play, like permanent changes of station or managing your household while your partner is away on deployments. When faced with such a hectic lifestyle, the idea of advancing your own career and focusing on professional development can seem isolating and daunting.
Despite these unique hurdles, there are many tools and resources professionals can use to further their skillsets, regardless of where they stand in their career journey. Here are three tips military spouses can utilize to further their professional development:
Professionally develop regardless of location, service status, or work experience
When considering professional development, evaluate your ultimate career goals. How are you looking to further your skillset? Do your plans require pursuing another degree? Are you planning on switching your career entirely after a break from the workforce? Through identifying and visualizing your professional development journey, you can pinpoint steps you need to take to achieve your goal.
As is the case with many military spouses, my family is reaching the point where my husband is beginning to prepare for his retirement from active duty. While he’s looking to settle down after his transition, I’m still very focused on my career. These changes are causing a shift in our home dynamic, I’ve learned the key is to maintain open communication with your spouse and be honest about your professional development goals. Most people don’t equate that professional development is a family or transition move, but the experience becomes much more holistic for you and your spouse when you view it with this lens.
With remote work becoming more of a permanent fixture in corporate culture, you might be reluctant to the idea of attending virtual events. However, it’s important to establish relationships with your colleagues and other professionals in your current or new industry. Virtual events provide the same meaningful connections and grant you the ability to develop a broader network on a national scale no matter where you currently reside or your past experience.
The value of building a broader network outside of just mil spouses
It’s only natural to want to flock to other military spouses experiencing the same hurdles you are. While they provide great support and guidance both emotionally and professionally, consider expanding your networking beyond your usual comfort zone. Starting with platforms like LinkedIn and MeetUp are great ways to meet new, like-minded individuals in your profession or a profession you’re hoping to learn more about. Join groups and keep an eye out for networking events, in-person and virtual. These enable you to expand your network, gain insight into what other professionals are doing, discover new tools to utilize and discuss industry trends.
Be a self-advocate and know your worth at your organization
If, like many military spouses, you’re ambitious and always looking to further your skillset, it’s important to communicate your desires and goals in the workplace. Remember the professional development plan? Refer back to it and set aside time to speak with your supervisors and colleagues about your goals. This applies to existing, new, and potential jobs – don’t be afraid to discuss long and short-term goals with hiring managers during an interview process as well!
Sometimes, we really are our own worst enemy, and overcoming anxiety about professional development can be the biggest hurdle. While the idea of these conversations can seem a bit intimidating, be a self-advocate and know the important role you play on your team. For example, if you’re looking to attend workshops that will require you to take days off from the office or if you are taking courses you want to see if your company will help cover the cost of, the key is to communicate the value these opportunities will bring to your organization in addition to your own development.
Approach these conversations with the S.T.A.R. (situation, task, action, resolution) method. By taking this approach, you are putting your request and its subsequent results into the perspective of how it will address broader challenges or needs at the company. You’ll be affirming your value by addressing shared challenges and offering a proactive solution. Professional development courses can be leveraged in these conversations as a low-cost solution for a long-term benefit.
By standing your ground, effectively communicating your goals, and highlighting the added value your training will bring to your organization, military spouses can achieve professional development goals at all stages of life and career.
Charlene Wilde is an Army Chemical Corps. Veteran, military spouse, and Assistant Secretary for the American Armed Forces Mutual Aid Association (AAFMAA), our nation’s longest-standing military financial services non-profit organization.