My family is in the middle of a PCS. Moves like this one always make me reflect on our journey as a military family and inevitably turns to me thinking about my own career path. There are a lot of articles out there about military spouse career issues and there are a million suggestions for what military spouses should do to prepare themselves, what to do when you get to a new place and certainly everyone wants to tell you how to find that “portable” career option that never seems to work like they said it would…
All of those things are great, but what does a REAL military spouse career journey look like? What does it feel like?
Through the nonprofit I manage, In Gear Career, I posed the questions below on our social media channels. I didn’t include names in this column, but I thought the responses captured an interesting snapshot of real military spouse careers.
How a military spouse career path reads on a resume…
When asked on the In Gear Career Facebook page to share their career journey through a list of their job titles, we received some really interesting lists! Here are a few of the answers:
Marine weather forecaster – research meteorologist – content strategist – technical writer
Hair salon manager – paralegal – nanny – seamstress – property manager – analyst for housing company – property manager – electrical cable manufacturing
Receptionist – Legal project assistant – marketing coordinator – account manager – project manager – finance analyst
Nonprofit Public Relations (energy) – Media Research Coordinator – NASA Public Affairs – Contracted Career Counselor (ACAP) – Brigade Family Readiness Support Assistant – Pharmaceutical Market Research Analyst (now specializing in qualitative methods).
Sales Associate – Administrative – Unarmed Guard – After-school Child Care – Teacher’s Aide – Admin – Asst. Hockey Intern – Admin/Office Manager – Vet Assistant and now unemployed.
Factory worker – Fisher House assistant manager and volunteer coordinator – freelance writer for local entertainment newspaper – Sunday school teacher – investigative researcher doing background screenings for fortune 500 company applicants – paralegal
Vet Tech – commercial real estate agent assistant – radio advertising sales – alumni relations – communications – social media.
Volunteer for MOPs & FRGs while staying at home – Human resource specialist – recruiter for corporations – program manager for a leadership company – in-house counsel (lawyer) – research and doctrine writer for the Army – and general manager of a hotel
Not shockingly, these job lists demonstrate the ability of military spouse professionals to reinvent themselves. It shows that we can do anything and we can make anything work when needed.
If you look closer, however, these lists highlight something else as well: they show that a military spouse resume contains more than a random chaotic list of jobs. Many of the lists above contain a wide range of position titles, but very often there is a common thread that ties them all together. Maybe all the jobs are working directly with people. Maybe the jobs are all research heavy or maybe you can see a clear progression and transition from one career field into another. Something tells me that if given the chance, the professionals who own these resumes could tell you even more clearly what ties all these things together and what skills they possess that took them down these paths.
Two things come to mind that I’d like to challenge you to think about in terms of military spouse career journeys and specifically what you can see on paper.
To the Military Spouse Professional: I challenge you to not limit yourself (or let other limit you) because you’re married to someone in the military and will likely move often.
I also challenge you to use creativity when applying your skills. Get to know you and your passion (I really loved this video provided by LeanIn.Org about discovering your meaning) and learn how to communicate that passion to others on paper (use the summary portion of your resume) and in person.
To the Employers Looking to Hire Military Spouses: I challenge you to not just talk about military spouse employment, but work to truly look for ways within your organizational policies to make a concrete difference. This doesn’t have to mean special accommodations, but it may mean learning to translate a military spouse resume. When you find a military spouse that can articulately communicate their passion and skill set, think creatively about how you can put their assets to work for your organization. I promise you that if given the chance, a military spouse professional will demonstrate their ability to benefit your organization.
How a military spouse career path feels…
If the military spouse career journey looks like a twisted maze, how does it feel to go through it?
When asked about their fears and challenges related to maintaining a career alongside their service member, we received the following answers:
I think the instability is the worst, most detrimental part to us succeeding. People see our resumes and wonder why can’t we hold a job, when in fact it’s not our choice to leave. I have job qualifications that leave me with endless opportunity but the moment they know it’s not going to be long-term we’re pushed aside for candidates, sometimes less qualified, that can provide a stability in the position that we can’t.
Job searching every 2-3 years blows. I’ve done the math and so far I’ve spent over 1.5 years unemployed/job searching. My retirement accounts are noticeably lower than his TSP.
Biggest struggle for me right now is deciding to PCS with my soldier and leave a blossoming career and vital connections that took years to build, or stay and nurture a career and continue making a difference in my local community but ultimately sacrificing an element of my marriage since we will be separated…sometimes it feels like no matter what choice you make, someone loses.
The biggest issue I face is not staying in the same place long enough to move up. I’ve been in a lateral position for the last 4 years and 3 moves because I can’t stay in one spot long enough to gain appropriate experience to be considered for a promotion or the next level immediately when we move…Companies want me to start in the same position I have years of experience in and work my way up. I can’t blame them but it is frustrating!
[I fear] not having a career again, just random ‘jobs’.
My fear is never advancing and having a true career, not making an impact.
While these questions were focused on the struggles and fears and while they definitely illustrate some of the difficulties surrounding maintaining a career alongside a service member, I challenge you again to see past the words on the page. Understand that behind these words are true professionals searching for a way to find their purpose and pursue their passions.
To the Employer Looking to Hire Military Spouses: I know you have a business to run and it’s not your responsibility to calm the fears of your candidates. I understand that. Just know that if your goal is to hire military spouses, their fears are not unfounded. Many employers overlook them for a candidate they believe will “stay longer.” Many employers say they want to hire military spouses, but they do nothing to make sure their HR departments have the freedom to be creative in applying the skill sets of military spouses.
Reach out. Let us know you’re listening. We don’t want a hand out, we truly don’t. We just want to be given the same opportunities as everyone else, but with the understanding that not all the twists and turns in our career path have been a result of our own choices. We want to show you how hiring us is not a charity case, but a true benefit to your business. How can we show you?
To the Military Spouse Professional: I hear you. I’ve been there and every time I’ve had to search out a new job in a new location I felt like I was losing my mind. I’ve read all the articles about choosing portable careers, but I find I can’t relate to most of the options suggested. I don’t think there is a perfect recipe for success when it comes to pursuing our dreams while moving every 2 to 3 years on average. I do think there is one thing in common in all of the stories of military spouse career success I’ve heard: VERBS.
Those successful military spouses are scheming, searching, creating, changing minds, kicking ass and taking names.
You can do the same. I know you get tired. I know there are a million other things to think about and manage, but you can do it. You can search for your perfect job and you can find creative ways to get closer to that goal every single day.
Find the positives in your journey too. Think about the far-reaching network you’ve created! Think about the varied experience you bring to the table. There really are silver linings to a lot of the challenges realities that come along with military life. Embrace them!