How To Advance Your Career While You're On The Move: Tips & Jobs for Military Spouses
(And anyone else who has to relocate frequently)
I'm getting to the age where a lot of my friends are looking to settle down - they want to get married, start families, buy houses, drown in debt, etc. (Just kidding, sort of.)
Jokes aside, building your own life, let alone a life with someone else is never easy. If the someone else you love and want to spend forever with is frequently on the move because of their job, it can be even harder, as you wonder whether you'll be able to continue to pursue your individual goals as well.
A couple of my friends are lucky enough to have married professional athletes. Many, many more have spouses serving our country in the military. And of course, there are countless other careers that require extensive travel (everything from diplomacy to acting).
All these friends are madly in love and excited, but a common concern I hear from them is whether they'll be able to keep their own careers afloat.
Any partnership requires sacrifice, but a career doesn't have to be one of them! In order to put my friends' (and anyone else who finds themselves in this position) minds at ease, I sat down with our career coach at PowerToFly, Heather Coll, to get her tips for advancing your career when you're on the move. As a former on-the-move military spouse herself, Heather knows the ups and downs that come with frequent relocations.
Now she helps other people navigate their careers through all sorts of transitions, especially when they're on the move. Here are her top 10 tips for military spouses (and anyone else who frequently has to relocate).
1. Remember that your skills are transferable & pivoting careers is normal.
If you're no longer fascinated by the kind of work you were doing in one location, use the move as an opportunity to try something new. There's no need to feel boxed in or intimidated because you'll only be there for a short period of time (see point #2).
"Be aware that things happen and change. You can pivot careers. Your skills are very much transferable to different industries and different roles... My experience made me totally unafraid of career pivots and now the best part is helping other people with that... I'm an expert in something partly by choice and partly by circumstance. I love helping others find their passions and empowering them to do whatever it is they want to do. No matter your circumstance or stage in your career, you can absolutely do it."
2. Don't sell yourself short... do your research!
Just because you might have to leave a job in a few years doesn't mean you should feel unduly grateful to your employer and accept less pay as a result. No employee commits to a company forever, and by being upfront with your employer about your situation, you're actually doing the company a courtesy. Make sure you're being paid what you deserve.
Heather learned this the hard way so you don't have to:
"When I moved to Utah I had this mentality like, 'Wow, I'll just be so lucky if I can work'. This eagerness to simply have a job led me to take the first opportunity that came my way - and it didn't pay well. I hadn't really done the upfront research the way I should have for that geographic location, and I wish I had. If I took the time to do my due diligence, it wouldn't have taken a whole year to find a job that I liked and paid me what I deserved."
3. Remember that you don't need to go it alone.
Embrace the community you're part of and ask for help when you need it. In turn, be willing to help others when given the opportunity.
"One of the biggest things I wish I learned earlier is to recognize the support that will be available to you and understand that it's a two-way street. When I was younger I was more stubborn and wanted to be really independent, but I realized very quickly that in the military there's an unspoken camaraderie. To me it's just unbelievable the support you will receive and also be able to give others."
4. Capitalize on your resources.
Check out the Military Spouse Employment Partnership, a free resource to help you navigate your career and find jobs. The companies on the site specifically list jobs for military spouses.
"It's a free online resource for military spouses, connecting them to careers that allow advancement while moving around. There are also lots of remote opportunities and jobs with great, well-known companies."
5. Consider a remote job.
Thanks to technology and the advent of remote work, you can take your job with you wherever you go. And taking a remote job doesn't mean sacrificing professional growth. (Just check out these fun and challenging remote jobs!)
"There's so much you can do remotely now. I do recruiting, but you can do customer success, project management, obviously development... So if you're in one of those fields and you're self-motivated and manage your time well, then remote work is a great option."
6. But don't limit yourself to remote jobs if remote work isn't right for you.
There are lots of other onsite jobs for military spouses and other paths you can pursue.
"I've worked with a lot of military spouses and certainly not everyone is a great fit for remote work or wants to work remotely. Just because you're moving around a lot, doesn't mean you should settle for less. For example, I had a client who was really profound personal trainer. This person spent a lot of their time building up their networking skills as they developed their clientele for one specific location, so much so that when it came time to move, this person felt so confident in their networking ability, that it wasn't a stressor to do it all over again somewhere new. My biggest piece of advice is don't say, 'No, I'm not going to do this,' just because you're moving around. Focus on job fit first and foremost. Find the best job for you and then decide if working remotely fits in that box."
7. Use time apart for individual growth.
Odds are, you won't always be able to accompany your spouse to where they're stationed. While the time apart will be difficult no matter what, working towards something you really care about can help. Pursuing a degree you've always wanted, taking a couple months to learn a new skill, finishing a personal project, or traveling independently are all great ways to prioritize and complete short-term goals that will look great on your resume! (And you can also leverage the small education stipend you receive as a military spouse to make some of these goals a reality!)
"I counseled one woman who ended up completing a public health certificate at her local community college while her spouse was stationed in Afghanistan. During his next deployment, she took a short-term project position in sub-saharan Africa to work on education-related initiatives. When she and her husband got back home, they had so much to share about how they were both impacting the world!"
8. Own your narrative & build your network.
Learn to be your own best advocate and tell your story. Your experience on the move/as a military spouse makes you unique and should be sold as an asset, rather than a disadvantage.
Being able to explain what you bring to the table and putting in the effort to network wherever you go is half the battle!
"Become a pro at marketing your skills. Every time we moved, I did what career coaches always say to do - I sent an email to someone that worked where I wanted to work and made connections. Even if they don't have an opening, send them an email, introduce yourself briefly, and just let them know why you're really inspired by what they do or the product they have. Ask them if you could set up a 15 minute informational interview, remotely or in person, just to chat with them briefly and learn a little more. When you network and talk to people about what you're looking for, what you're interested in, what you're good at... connections will happen naturally."
9. Communicate transparently.
Whether you're networking, applying to jobs, starting a new one, or leaving an old one... transparency and good communication will make you stand out as someone who's easy to work with.
"When I would find out our next location, I was always up front with my boss or manager about timelines. I found that in general, people/companies/employers were extremely accommodating, helpful, and supportive. Ultimately, you need to be a good communicator and tell people your situation. You're there to work and they will work with you."
10. Focus on one move at a time.
We'd all be overwhelmed if we tried to plan our entire career at once - you can actually use shorter-term assignments to your advantage by breaking time into manageable chunks and focusing on whatever next step feels right for you.
"Every time we moved I would look at how much time we had in that location and be honest with myself about the location, the time I had to give, and what I was capable of doing at that stage in my career. Given your personal needs and work history, you can then see what job(s) fit those circumstances and make a plan of attack for that particular time period."
Need some more advice on navigating your career? You can book a session with Heather here!
I thought about writing this blog piece like one of those quizzes that used to be on the back pages of Seventeen and Cosmo where each question would offer several answers of varying point levels and you'd pick one answer per question, tally up your points at the end, and match your score to one of several possible results.
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