By Claire Wood
If you have been a Military Spouse for any amount of time at all, you are fully aware of the tricky conundrum of trying to maintain your own professional career. From employment gaps to establishing licensure as you move from state to state, the hurdles are many.
According to the National Conference on State Legislatures, “a 2019 DoD survey found that one in five military spouses who work in a licensed profession waited 10 months or more to get their credential after a move and additionally faced a 22% unemployment rate and a 26% wage gap compared to their civilian counterparts before COVID-19.”
And that was pre-pandemic. Since March 2020 Military Spouse careers have seen further complications with many needing to stay home entirely or work from home to facilitate kids’ educational needs. They have also experienced further unemployment challenges due to shutdowns, as well as the fallout from how the pandemic has affected PCS timelines and the national housing market. It’s a tough time to be a Military Spouse.
The familiar career trajectory you were on before may have taken a hit or been paused indefinitely. In times like these, what is a Military Spouse to do? Well, hunt the good stuff and look for the opportunity of course!
The silver lining in all of this, perhaps, is that there is actually no better time than the present to use this as your big moment to make a change or make a new start. The following recommendations might look like arrows pointing you to your next career.
Give Yourself Time to Think and Discover
Don’t just dive into a job for the sake of taking the first thing offered. Spend some time getting to know yourself better. Examine your true passions and strengths. If you don’t know where to start, begin with taking a personality inventory or assessment like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or Strengthsfinder.
Getting to know yourself better is a great first step in making sure the other parts of your journey to employment will get you the most bang for your buck. This is also a great time to delve into your own Military Spouse networks to get personal insights in your industry from others who are walking a similar road. If word of mouth isn’t an option, try scouring social media sites like LinkedIn or Facebook to find industry-specific groups to connect with.
Determine If There Are Extra Educational Requirements
Once you have gotten a better grasp on where your passions and skills align, continue researching jobs and job requirements. Does the next big career you want to embark upon require any special certificates, degrees, or training? Do you need to spend time in preparation for that either by saving up in your budget or through study and test taking?
It’s also wise to make sure that you are “counting the cost” of attaining additional training, especially if it’s a significant expense. For example, can you cash flow a degree that costs $70,000 or will you take on student debt to cover the cost? Compare average salaries in your field with your debt to time-to-payoff ratio and make sure that the numbers make sense.
Seek Out Guidance at Your Local Military Installation
Before you tackle starting a degree program or specific job training, don’t overlook the absolute value that many military installations provide through chapters of the Hiring Our Heroes Military Spouse Professional Network, spouse employment centers, and local workforce partnerships.
Additionally, the Military Spouse Career Advancement Account (MyCAA) Scholarship is a workforce development program that provides up to $4,000 of tuition assistance to eligible Military Spouses. Blue Star Families, Military Spouse Employment Partnership (MSEP), and the Military Spouse Ambassador Network (MySECO) are all helpful resources as well.
Many of these organizations have a staff of people on standby to help you with getting access to educational preparedness scholarships, professional license updating grants, resume and interview tips and training. Take advantage of these services as they will not only give you practical help, but also they add another layer of local networking.
Start Small, Have a Plan, and Remember the Big Picture
It can feel incredibly overwhelming to think about picking up a career that has been on the backburner for a while. The uphill climb to get another degree or change fields entirely can seem insurmountable. The forces both inside and outside your family situation can feel impossible to overcome in getting started or completing your goal.
Instead of letting the weight of such an endeavor deter or discourage you, break the whole thing down to its finest, most digestible steps. Start small. Make one phone call. Write one list. Compose one journal entry. Schedule one appointment. After that, just keep doing the next small step, and the next, and the next. Small progress is still progress.
As you move about and meander through this progress, observe how these steps may ebb and flow. Do what you can when you can. Consider creating a master plan. Have your big goal and then break it down into smaller goals based on specific actions needed (saving money, completing training, interviewing, etc.). Realize that some parts of your plan will go smoothly and some will need to be adjusted as you go. That’s life and, as a Military Spouse, no one knows this battle rhythm better than you.
Remember the big picture in all of this or lean into your “why” for pursuing your career in the first place. Perhaps it is purely financial. Maybe you just want to earn a salary again, create some breathing room in your family’s budget, or dream for your future life beyond the military. Perhaps it is about passion and fulfillment or a calling to do what you love. Maybe you just want to feel alive doing that thing you were born to do with your natural gifts. Perhaps it is some other reason. Maybe you’re just ready for a change or shift. No matter the reason, you will never regret the time or energy you spent to focus on your own career journey.
Claire Wood is a military spouse who calls home anywhere the Army sends her. She loves reading, hosting friends, and keeping houseplants alive. She shares on Instagram @home_sweet_military_home and her 2015 book, Mission Ready Marriage is available on Amazon.
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