By: Rose Holland
PCSing overseas is exciting, but there can be limitations for employment. As you prepare for a Outside the Continental United States (OCONUS), you may not be allowed to run a home-based for-profit business and there may be fewer paid employment opportunities. You need get informed.
Contact the Employment Readiness Program at your installation before you arrive. This should ALWAYS be your first stop. They will have information regarding employment options to include contract positions. They can provide you with options and a realistic picture. Once you arrive, stop by in-person. Be sure to attend any job fairs held and network. Utilize their services, they know the employers on the installation and can be your best means to obtain employment. They may have contact with local employers willing to hire Americans, if you are able to work on the economy.
Stop by your Civilian Personnel Office and register for the Military Spouse Preference once you arrive (you cannot do so prior to your arrival). You need to have a federal resume prepared. This is NOT your corporate resume uploaded, but rather is much more extensive. Yes, they will take your corporate resume, but you will be hurting yourself if you try to do this. Take a federal jobs class at your current duty station or through your Employment Readiness Program once you arrive. It will be worth your time and effort to be prepared and do it right. It will also increase your chances of being selected for a position.
Learn about the SOFA, find out what employment and self-employment options are available to you. Depending on the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) you may not be allowed to retain your privileges as a military spouse to include use of the commissary, PX and tax-free status if you work off post. The SOFA may include stipulations requiring a percentage of civilian employees to be local nationals further limiting your options. Understand you are a guest in a foreign land and accept the challenge. If you plan on working on the economy, learn the language and do it legally!
Do you want to own your own business, be sure to contact your legal office first and find out the rules to include tax implications of running your business in a foreign country or living in military housing. Often your Employment Readiness Program will have information on the dos and don’ts. Can you run a for-profit business if you live in government housing or even off the installation? Some countries will allow you to continue to practice your skills as long as you are not making a profit, but you need to be sure to keep track of your costs to prove this and you cannot charge for your time. Know that if you are allowed to run a for-profit, you cannot have materials for the business shipped to your military post box.
Think long-term and strategically volunteer to keep up your skills and connect to possible employment opportunities. I had a spouse come to me complaining that she never found a job in Germany. I asked her if she volunteered and it was as if I said a dirty word. Volunteerism is a great way to network and prove your worth. With fewer opportunities, it is essential that you network. I have found there are more volunteer opportunities when stationed in a remote or OCONUS location. I was able to gain significant management and leadership skills while volunteering OCONUS and found a paid position directly related to my volunteer work. Teachers who took substitute-teaching positions were more likely to be hired if there was an opening. It is common sense to hire someone whose work ethics you know. Take advantage of these to gain new skills or explore another aspect of your career.
Telework is a great option for some career fields. Check with your current employer to see if there is a way to modify your position (go to your employer with a plan). Again, you need to check to see if this is allowed. The Military Spouse Employment Partnership program is focusing on developing more telework options for spouses. I have contacted a number of installations in Europe and each has stated that it is currently acceptable, but you should always check with the employment readiness and legal offices.
Expand your knowledge by adding to your education. This might be a good time to earn a degree or take some enrichment classes. There are scholarships available. Visit your installation’s education center to find out more. The Spouse Education and Career Opportunities program through Military One Source as well as specialty consultants are there to assist you in finding and affording educational opportunities. Are any training programs at your installation? Many OCONUS installations have programs for dental assistants through the American Red Cross. If you are volunteering in your career field, ask about professional development opportunities.
Think outside the box and expand your skill set or seek a position in a related career field. See if there are unpaid opportunities in your career field outside the installation. Do you need stronger computer skills or to obtain a certification? Are there positions at your installation related to your career field that would expand your skillset or increase your value to employers when you return to the states? Are there seminars or workshops on or off the installation that you could attend? Do you want to try something completely different, now might be the time.
Finding employment while OCONUS is not impossible, but you need to be realistic. Depending on your career it may take you a year or longer. Be sure to prepare emotional and financially for this reality. Most of all, be sure to take advantage of the unique opportunity to live in a different country. Explore the culture and learn as much as you can and take advantage of this time to develop your skills and knowledge.