How do you adjust professionally if your partner or spouse is constantly on the move? I don’t mean someone driving a truck for a living, or running on a treadmill to shed some pounds. I mean it in the “occupational hazard” sense — they’ve willingly entered into a profession that necessitates moving to new cities on a regular basis. Being a military spouse makes job hunting that much more difficult.
While numerous professions require their employees to frequently relocate, this problem specifically affects military families in particular.
About 32 percent of military spouses and spouses of recent veterans are unemployed, according to a report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a rate that’s significantly higher than the current unemployment rate of Americans between the ages of 18 and 65.
These “trailing spouses” have to constantly innovate to fit into new circumstances and find new work each time they move and are often unable to make the professional inroads necessary to finding a full-time position.
This is a reality for Elizabeth Colegrove. She’s a military spouse, serial employee, and entrepreneur who founded the website The Reluctant Landlord. Colegrove has been married six years, and is moving for the fifth time next month.
Fortunately, mobile spouses can learn how to adjust and realize their own long-term career success. Here are 10 job hunting tips for military spouses from Colegrove and from myself (I’ve relocated with my husband for work nine times — so far).
1. Network With Everyone
Knowing the right person is half the battle when it comes to finding gainful employment — plus making lots of connections can make it easier when you move again, as someone in your network may know of an opportunity in your new city.
Ask them to lunch or for a cup of coffee, and start to develop key professional relationships.
2. Remain Flexible
Let’s be realistic — military spouses can’t be choosy when it comes to jobs. You’re not likely to build a straight career path when you’re moving regularly.
You can do any job for a year or two! Colegrove has done accounting, commercial property management, patient-care coordination, and teaching, among other jobs. She advises you to think “outside the box.”
Here are some available resources that can help military spouses find and progress in their careers:
- Spouse Education and Career Opportunities: Through this program, military spouses can find coaches that can help them further their education or find job and career opportunities.
- MilSpouse Money Mission: MilSpouse helps military spouses make careful financial decisions during significant moments, like retirement, the birth of a child, or in anticipation of deployment.
- MilitaryChildCare.com: This website allows spouses to find caregivers for their children, so that they can search for and find a job without having to worry about finding a babysitter who may not understand the challenges of a military lifestyle.
- EMentor Program: This program connects military members and spouses with mentors that can help them network and further their careers.
- My Career Advancement Account: These accounts enable military spouses to receive up to $4,000 in tuition assistance for spouses seeking certificates, licenses, or associate degrees.
- Military Spouse Employment Partnership: This partnership helps military spouses connect with employers that are dedicated to hiring military family members.
- Military Family: This website collects a list of scholarship programs to help spouses attend college and further their careers.
- Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans’ Families: This is a 39-day program intended to provide training for military family members that can help them seek self-employment by learning how to manage a small business.
- Boots to Business: This program overviews business ownership, so that military members and spouses can begin the journey to becoming entrepreneurs.
- Veterans Business Outreach Center (VBOC) Program: The VBOC helps veterans and spouses connect with resources that can help them start or grow their businesses.
3. Spread the Word About Your Job Search
Your real estate agent, your hairdresser, the people you meet at the dog park — it’s possible you might find a lead in unexpected places.
Once you get a name, use it. Call them, try to set up an appointment, connect with them on LinkedIn.
4. Apply Everywhere
Post on every site — from LinkedIn to Craigslist. Be persistent, and follow up on every application you submit.
Seek out vacancies at companies where you’d like to work, either by hitting up your network or checking out the company’s website. There will always be jobs waiting for military spouses, as long as you are dedicated and seeking them out.
5. Try Volunteering
No matter where you move, there is some sort of group that can use your experience. I lost my job once when our company was bought out.
At the time, I was involved in the Junior League, a volunteer service organization, and I mentioned to some fellow volunteers that I was going to be unemployed.
I couldn’t believe the offers of help that I got, including résumé advice, introductions to hiring managers, and actual job offers.
In another situation, I asked my boss why she picked me for a position. She said it was because of the connections I made through my volunteerism.
6. Consider Going Back to School
Colegrove pursued a master’s degree, and then used the school’s career center to help her job hunt as a military spouse.
Whether it’s obtaining a post-secondary degree, attending a vocational program, or taking individual classes at a local college, furthering your education can help you obtain the position you want — plus data shows that a professional or master’s degree leads to greater earnings than just a bachelor’s or high school diploma, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
7. Do Temp Work
Temporary employment can introduce you to the culture of your new area, expose you to new industries, and lead to full-time employment.
When we moved to Hawaii, I temped for a few months to feel out the local work environment. I learned what locations had a good commute from my house, how to speak in the local dialect, and how to dress appropriately.
I also received several job offers and eventually accepted a permanent position with a company that I loved.
8. Think About Self-Employment
Colegrove is building up her website and related business so that it can eventually be her portable, full-time job.
While self-employment might not be an option for everyone, consider which skills you have that might be marketable, even as a side hustle, as supplementary income during your job search.
9. Put Your Skills Together
For example, Colegrove got her commercial property management job by combining her health-care administration skills with her real estate experience.
It’s possible there’s a perfect job out there for military spouses that combines a variety of skillsets — keep this in mind when applying for positions for which you may consider yourself unqualified.
10. Look Nationally (or Internationally)
Neither Colegrove nor I have taken this route, but it works for many. My friend Elaine works within the military commissary system and transfers her job location each time her husband’s work requires them to move.
Another friend works for a large international consulting company and she is usually set up with her new position within a few weeks of learning where her husband’s career will send them next, even if it is some remote place overseas.
The Bottom Line
Most people don’t envision having to quit their job and start over every year or two, and it presents unique challenges. It also presents great opportunities to learn new skills and discover entire new fields.
Though your spouse’s career might require consistent moving, it doesn’t mean that you should resign yourself to remaining unemployed.
For military spouses, getting a job with each new move isn’t easy, but you can do it. Use the job hunting tips above, fine-tune your résumé and cover letters, and know your strengths. Stick with it, and a new position will turn up eventually.
Additional Reporting by Lukas Shayo.