by Rose Holland, CWDP
I see too many military spouses who are searching for employment with no tangible career goal in mind. If you just want ‘a job,’ go to the nearest fast food restaurant or major chain store, they are always hiring, but if you want to build a career instead, it is time to take a step back and take a look at your goals. Remember the saying, “Keep your eye on the prize?” The same applies when you are developing your career. Have you thought about what you want to be doing in 3, 5 or 10 years from now? Have you put the effort into finding out what it will take to get there? After all, you spend most of your waking time at work, we should enjoy and be passionate about what we do. Yes, I know these things are easy to say, but how on earth do you accomplish this?
But I have no idea what I want to be when I grow up?
For those involved in transitioning from the military, your Transition Assistance Program (TAP) can assist you. As a military spouse, so many resources are available to assist you through this process. There are career counselors, career assessment tools and detailed information about various career fields. Career counselors are available at your family center (Airmen and Family Readiness Center, Army Community Service, Coast Guard Work Life, Fleet and Family Support Center and Marine Corps Community Services) and through Spouse Education and Career Opportunity (SECO). Other places that offer these services would include your America’s Job Center or a college career center.
The first step will be to determine a career focus. If you do not already know what you want to be when you grow up, the first two places I would recommend would be the Employment Readiness Program at your family center and SECO. Both of these programs are geared for the military spouse. Ask about some career counseling. There are a number of assessment tools that can be administered. SECO has many of these on line. Go over the results with a career counselor. Take the time to meet with someone who will explain the results. Local colleges (to include community colleges and technical schools) are another great resource, especially if you are considering attending that school. Many have trained career counselors who can provide assessments and career counseling. If you have already graduated from a college, many provide continuing services through the career center for alumni. The government website O*NET (https://www.onetonline.org/) provides a free interest test that is often a great place to start. Remember, you do not have to do this alone. These resources are there for you!
OK, you narrowed it down from anything to a whole bunch of career options, now what?
The next step is doing some research. There are two phases to this. The first is general research to narrow down the career fields and the second is conducting some advisory conversations or informational interviews.
General research would include utilizing O*NET or a tool such as the Virtual Career Library (Army Community Service has free access as of 2015) to find out more about the career paths available. This information will include salary expectations, education requirements and typical work activities. Ideally you want to narrow it down to three to five careers by the end of this phase.
Advisory conversations would involve interviewing those in the various career fields. For many this can be intimidating, but it is an essential step. Advisory conversations help you really understand the career field. This is a casual conversation with someone in a management role that can help you understand their career and advise you on the steps you would take to get you there. A career counselor can often help you figure out what to ask and where to go. Questions can vary. You should already know salary and education requirements, but you can verify them and show that you have done your research. Talk to your career counselor and create a list of questions that works for you.
I do recommend meeting with a variety of people in the career field that hold different types of jobs. For example, if you are thinking of being a nurse you might interview supervisory nurses working in clinic, hospital, residential treatment and home care settings. This would provide you with a wide range of experiences. Some organizations will allow you to job shadow so you can get a feel for the career field.
This sounds great, but how do I figure out who to reach out to?
I have seen many get hung up on this issue and never proceed because they are afraid to take this important step. People love talking about themselves. If they love their career, they will enjoy discussing their path and sharing their passion. Not sure who to contact? Ask your career counselor. They may have some contacts. Who do you want to ask? You want to have an advisory conversation with someone in management, someone who might have the ability to hire a person new to the career field.
Whew! That was much easier than I thought. Now what?
Now step back and analyze all this information. Have you been able to find your career? If not, maybe it is time for some more research. If you did, it is time to create a plan. Develop short, medium and long term. Your goals should be SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time specific). Write it down. A goal is much more achievable if you write it down. Think about what you need to do to accomplish the goals. Do you need additional education, if so where will you go for this? Do you need experience? Can you obtain a job or internship to gain the necessary skills or strategically volunteer? Sit down with a career counselor and go over your plan.
Now it is time to go out there and get started on a Career!
I promise you, all this hard work will be worth your time and effort. You spend most of your waking hours at work, you want to be doing something you are passionate about and feel confident. Use the network you built while you were having advisory conversations. Ask for ideas where you could begin your career in the field. Ask if they have time to look over your resume and provide you with their perspective. Start attending professional meetings and get involved with LinkedIn groups to build a network and learn more about opportunities in your profession.
It does not end here, revisit your plan periodically (at least semi-annually). Check to see if you still on track or if you need to make some changes. Perhaps you have found another path and need to update your plan a bit or perhaps you are achieving your dreams and creating the career you always wanted.
So what do you have to lose? You have everything to gain! You are worth the effort. How can we help you get started working towards a CAREER?
Rose Holland is the spouse of an Active Duty Army Reservist and is an advocate for military and veteran families. She has three adult children and has been married to her husband, Michael, for 30 years. She is a certified Workforce Development Professional, Federal Career Coach and Job Search Trainer.