Career&Employment, Employment & Career

Your Job Search Toolbox

By Rose Holland, CWDP
Employment Advocate

You don’t expect to do a major repair with just a screwdriver, so don’t expect to complete a job search with just one resume. You need a toolbox full of tools.

Focus:  Too often I hear people say they just want any job. If you want any job, go to the food court, any fast food chain or retail store, they are always hiring. If you want to develop a career, you need to have a focus for a couple of reasons. First, think of writing a research paper, how hard would it be to write a paper on the history of the entire world? What about the history of man? How about if you focused on a location or specific event? Wouldn’t that be easier? The same goes for the job search. Second, if you have a career focus, you will be able to progress in a career field instead of jumping from one career to another. Your experience can help you go for that next level up as you move. So how do you build focus into your job search toolbox?

  • Focus your job search on one, two or, at most, three career fields. This will make the search much easier and help you build that career.
  • Focus on companies you are interested in. Do research and find those companies that are a match for your career and your values.
  • Focus on industries you are interested in. It might be non-profits or the banking industry. This will also help you narrow down companies.

Self Knowledge:  You need to know your skills, finances, preferred work environment and more.

  • Skills: What specific skills do you bring to the table? Not only do you need to know your job-related technical skills, but think about the soft skills like customer service, problem-solving ability and flexibility.
  • Finances: How much do you need to make? Do not forget about expenses you will encounter by working such as child care, clothing and transportation. Sometimes, sadly, it is more expensive to work than stay home. I know a spouse who had to quit after a month because the cost of child care was more than her take home pay.
  • Work Environment: What are you looking for in your ideal work environment and what is a no-go for you? (See my blog, Work Environment – Finding the Right Match at for more on this.)
  • Strengths and Challenges: You need to be able to express what you bring to an employer and address any challenges. If a job requires attention to detail and you know this is not your strength, this many not be the job for you.

Plan:  Get organized and get a plan! Finding a job is a job and you need to treat it that way. Would you do a major project without planning things out?

  • Create a realistic schedule, and follow it. Include time for resume updates, applying for jobs, follow up, networking, research, advisory conversations (also known as information interviews), volunteering, exercise and fun. Yes, plan fun!
  • Do not make phone calls or office visits on Mondays or Fridays. Monday’s people are organizing their week and Friday they are organizing their weekend! Use these days for other job search activities.
  • Track your applications. Note when you apply and when you should and do follow up. Keep track of your contacts. Create a spreadsheet, keep a notebook, use task lists or post-its. Do whatever works for you, but track your efforts.

Resume:  Your resume is one of the major tools, but you do need to customize your resume. Depending on who you talk to, in 2013 there were 250 to 383 resumes received by employers per open job posting.

  • Don’t just use one resume: I often hear people say they just want a basic resume. That is fine and it is your choice, but you can bet some of those 250 to 383 people have taken the time to create a unique resume focused on the position. Whose resume will impress?
  • Get help: There are lots of tools to assist you to include workshops and individual counseling at your family center (Airmen and Family Readiness Center, Army Community Service, Coast Guard Work Life, Fleet and Family Support Center and Marine Corps Readiness Center). Use these resources. Have professional colleagues look at your resume. Ask your old boss to make sure you covered your key accomplishments. You do not have to do this alone.
  • Ask colleagues for input: Again, reach out. Ask colleagues to evaluate your resume. Ask them how to word things. Ask them about your accomplishments. I reached out to a colleague to get some numbers. She gladly pulled them, helping me make my accomplishments much stronger.

Research:  Yes, you need to do your homework. You need to understand the job market, salaries and the organizations you want to work for.

  • Glassdoor: is great for researching salaries, interviewing techniques and even has employee reviews for employers.
  • O*Net: provides research on occupations, industries and more.
  • Company website and social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.): You can learn a lot about a company for their website. You can find out about initiatives or new programs through their social media accounts.
  • State employment website: Your state’s website often has information on local markets and programs. Every market is different. A resume that works in one part of the country may not be good enough, or may be too much, in another.

Network:  Have you heard, “it’s who you know?” This is true, because who you know may know someone who knows someone. I had a client said she felt ‘slimy” asking for help connecting to a job, yet she admitted she would be thrilled to help connect someone to a position. People are willing to help, people WANT to help. Let them help you and then pass it on when you can and help someone else!

  • LinkedIn: This is an amazing place to network, yet I find few spouses utilizing it. In many ways this site is perfect for military spouses as we can start connecting to employers and recruiters as soon as we know where we will be PCSing! Besides that over 94% of recruiters are using LinkedIn, yes 94%! (Want to know more about what LinkedIn can do for you, check out my blog from 2 weeks ago!)
  • College Career Centers and Alumni Groups: For some reason people think that once you have graduated from college that is it. Alumni post positions at their career centers, and not just entry level. Alumni are usually willing to help a fellow alum, you have something in common! Look for alumni that are working for the organizations you want to work for or are in the industry you want to be in. Connect to them and hold some advisory conversations with them!
  • Other Social Media Platforms: Let people know you are job searching. Ask for advice. Ask someone to check out your resume or practice interviewing with you.
  • Job fairs: These are great places to connect to recruiters. Some will really take the time and help you, others will tell you to apply on-line. Your goal at a job fair is to get contacts. Connect to them on LinkedIn. Follow up and contact them after the job fair.
  • Your Current and Former Colleagues and Employers: Ask if they have any connections at your new location. If you are in a federal position or with a company located throughout the country, ask your management team to contact their counterparts at your receiving location. I know of an IHG hotel who saved a slot for three months because the hotel and regional managers contacted their counterparts.
  • Network EVERYWHERE You Go: Yes, this means if you are job hunting take the time to dress nicely even to go to the grocery store. Sounds crazy? I know a spouse who overheard a business owner discussing his frustration about a problem at work as they were in line. She turned around and asked if he had considered a number of ideas she would implement. He gave her his card and he created a job for her AFTER A CONVERSATION IN A GROCERY STORE!!

Professional Resources:  There are lots of resources, with trained professionals to assist you, free to military spouses so be sure you are using them!

  • The Employment Readiness Program: Your local family centers (Airmen and Family Readiness Center, Army Community Service, Coast Guard Work Life, Fleet and Family Support Center or Marine Corps Readiness Center) have an Employment Readiness Program. These programs offer workshops, individual career and job search counseling, job banks and more.
  • Military Spouse Employment Partnership and Spouse Education and Career Opportunities: Both programs can be accessed through Military One Source offer career counseling, resume writing help and job search assistance (
  • America’s Job Centers: Your local job centers have workshops, resume assistance, job search assistance and other resources. Some states consider military spouses “displaced workers” which opens up additional benefits and resources (
  • Veterans Employment Center / Heroes to Hired: These programs are open to military spouses and have connects to organizations that seek to support military families (
  • National Guard Employment Network and Army Reserve Private Public Partnership (P3) Employment Specialists: These programs are available to all service members and their families and have connections to the local market. ( or
  • And there are many more to include non-profits that focus on serving military spouses (please share your favorite resources in the comments section for others to see).

Recruiters and Recruiting Companies:  This is a great resource especially for those in management or a specialized career field. You should never pay for a recruiter, they are normally paid by the company hiring. They often have jobs that may not be posted elsewhere and can provide you insight into what a company is looking for in a resume as well as prepare you for the interview.

Staffing Agencies:  These were called temp agencies at one time, but they no longer only have temporary jobs. Many staffing agencies are serving as recruiters for companies that do not want to wade through a mountain of resumes. They have temporary positions, temporary to permanent positions and permanent positions. It is a great way to find a position quickly. Many of the national companies are MSEP partners. There are some who have a career focus such as nursing, accounting or manufacturing.

Wardrobe: Sounds kind of silly, but remember that you can only make a first impression once. This does not mean you need to go out and spend thousands of dollars. Know the area.

  • Know What to Wear: Check out the type of businesses you want to work for. What are the employees wearing? What are the managers wearing? If you are ambitious and want to move up, dress the way the people two levels up from you are dressing.
  • Do You Need a Suit?: If you expect to make $50,000 or more, you need to own a suit (unless you are in Hawaii or somewhere where a suit is a no-no).
  • You do not have to Spend a Fortune: There are thrift store and even non-profits that will provide business attire at little or no cost.
  • Have Some Classics: Men, have a dark suit and a few light colored shirts. Women, have some classic suits that are interchangeable. If you can, pay to have them altered to fit you. Remember, you do not want to be remembered for your clothing, you want to be remembered for your professionalism.

Interview Preparation: This is a must! If you made it this far, the job is yours to win (or lose). If you do not prepare for the interview, you will lose. Have someone at your family center or job center hold a mock interview with you. If you have a friend or relative assist you be sure they will be honest and be sure you can take any criticism without your feelings will not be hurt should they criticize you.

  • Dress to Impress: Dress as you would for the interview and have your clothes evaluated.
  • Practice!: Practice answering questions that may be asked on the interview (we know you did the research listed above so you know the type of questions that may be answered).
  • Prepare: Research the types of questions typical for that company. Think about the position. What would you be doing? How does your experience relate? Think about the story you will tell about your experience and how it relates to the job.
  • The Day of: Arrive about 15 minutes early and remember, the interview starts when you leave the house. How you act on the drive there, in the parking lot or once you enter the building can impact your interview. (Ever hear the story about the person who closed the elevator door in someone’s face and that person ended up being the interviewer?)

Job Search Sites:  I put this last for a reason. This should not be your primary tool, but one tool. Do not only apply blindly to positions. The fewest number of jobs are obtained through blind applications, but it is still a way to search. Do not spend most of your time applying through job search sites.  If the site allows you to upload a resume, be sure your home address is not on the resume, just include your city and state. What sites are the best?

  • State Site: One of the most important is your state’s employment site, and be sure to upload at least one resume. Most state sites have this capabilities and small to medium employers will pull from the resumes on the site. This site is specific to your location. It is going to focus on local positions. There are representatives for the state employment commission that go out and connect to companies. This site will have positions other places may not.
  • Professional Organizations: The most important sites for you to use are those specific to your profession or industry. If you have any professional organizations within your profession, look on the national and regional sites. I know the state I reside in had a site for the non-profit sector and jobs posted there were not found elsewhere. One of my professional sites did not have much, but I called the organization and was referred to six different organizations in the state that hired career counselors so call the organizations and ask where you should be looking!
  • General Job Search Sites: One or two (only one or two as otherwise you will spend all your time on them) general job search sites like Indeed, Heroes to Hired, Hiring our Heroes, or Monster. And no, Craig’s list is not a job site. Yes, there are jobs on there, but do you really want to work for a company that is so cheap it only advertises on Craig’s list? If you do use Craig’s list please research the company carefully. There are a lot of scams out there.

A job search is not just applying blindly. You need a whole toolbox. A job search is a job in itself, treat it that way!

Tell us what else is in your toolbox. Share your challenges and successes.


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