Monday, October 7, 2013

Military Monday: Careers for Military Spouses (Part 1)

Maintaining a Career
(Part one of a three part series)

After my last post, on Finding a Family Doctor, I got thinking about what other aspects of military spouse-hood are both unique and challenging. What parts of normal life-progression are different for spouses of military members?

For me, one of the top items on this list is Careers.

We move. A lot. Sometimes every three years, sometimes yearly, sometimes more than once in a year. Every once in a while, you might see more than that (I have several friends who managed to stay on the same base for more than ten years), but sooner or later the powers that be will pick your spouse for that brilliant posting and boom! Your professional life is on hold.

Pros and Cons

What makes career path maintenance difficult? What are the advantages of life in the military when it comes to employment matters? I put the subject out there on the interwebs, and got very strong and very thoughtful responses. Here's a compressed version of what spouses were saying:


1. Most careers are not portable. It's very difficult to maintain an actual professional career path
with all of those moves. Moves tend to hit the 'reset button' for careers: putting you back at the bottom of the seniority list, resetting your vacation time to zero, and adding probationary periods. Often jobs are location specific, as well. Jennifer commented:  "I ran a very successful bar and grill taking home more money then my hubby until I moved here. Now I sadly work in a call center... I tried to open my own bar here, (but the) town council shot me down multiple times".

Along the same lines as this, some career paths (border security for instance) only work when the area you are posted to permit it, or the city is large enough to allow a market or a niche.

2. New post, new day care. Yeah. This is a whole post in itself, so I'll leave it at that. Finding a new day care = stress.

3. The job hunt process. Changes in employment rank high in the top 100 life stressors according to famous stress list makers Holmes and Rahe. An un-looked-for move involves an emotional and mental upheaval that can include:

*Leaving an old job (generally not by choice)
  *Searching for a new job: resume writing, searching the internet and a lot of unavailable time while dealing with all of the other time-consuming move items.
  *Walking into established social situations and trying to find your place.
  *Changing your schedule to meet your job requirements.
  *Rejection after rejection after rejection is hard to take. I have a wonderful friend who went from an Executive position to applying to more than a hundred jobs over several years before she found employment--and that at a significant downgrade in seniority and pay. It was a very difficult and very stressful time for her.

4. Licensing requirements change from province to province, state to state and country to country. As a physiotherapist, I know this issue quite well, and often have to weigh the benefits of having a license in the province/state/country against the effort and money required to obtain a license. This became painfully clear when returning from an out-of-country posting. I discovered my 'hours worked in the past five years' did not meet the provincial requirements. I had to write the national board exams to be re-licensed. One year, three thousand dollars and many, many stressful hours later I was able to work unsupervised again. Lets just say that the next time I let my physiotherapy license lapse will be when I retire...or my other career (writing) becomes self-sustaining.

5. Stereotypes. Hard to believe, but some employers are afraid to hire military spouses, knowing that they might move in the near future. What they miss.

6. ....And all of this happens while you are often dealing with your spouse away on training or deployment, mountains of boxes, finding a doctor, dentist, hair dresser, schools, cable company, grocery store, veterinarian and pharmacy...!

But enough moaning and groaning. There ARE some plusses to being a military spouse!


1. Variety. Really, there's so many options for work, even within your own career path. One spouse commented: "I'm a RN and have never been without a job at each move. There's so much you can do. I've worked in small hospitals, large ones, on base. I've also taught." (Thanks Vanessa!) And another spouse (also in nursing) said: "Moving is an opportunity to try it all! Med/surg, community, OR, resume is varied." (Thanks Laura!)

2. Opportunities for personal growth. I like to meet challenges head on. And what I personally have found is that each challenge I overcome becomes a huge surge forward on the personal satisfaction scale. Sure it's hard to find a new job, but that first pay-check feels GOOD.

3. Meeting new people. Making new friends every few years becomes a daunting task. And our
Me in the middle, with my two wonderful
(and pregnant) coworkers,
Jenny and sad to have left that job!
We had such a great time there...
military spouse friends are often our first, and longest lasting friendships. But working allows a new outlet to meet people. It may be hard at first, as local non-military women and men tend to be skeptical of putting the effort into a new friendship, but these people are virtual mines of information about dentists, hair dressers and schools. And often these friends become lifelong connections.

4.  Military spouses are great employees. We have a lot of desirable attributes. We are hard working, we are resilient, we have great skill sets and we are often willing to put in the extra effort. If employers latch on to this, and recognize our value, they can become great assets in our career paths. And we have a lot of resources available to help us transition from place to place. Military Family Resource Centres in Canada have an entire section dedicated to Employment Assistance services. If you haven't already checked it out, you should. And there are many military spouses looking for others to network with,  and potentially hire. You can find one such group (The Military Family Small Business Association) here.

There are also many career counselling services and spouses-helping-spouses programs available for newly posted military spouses. Just a quick google search will give you a long list of available options. Resume writing, job searches, aptitude testing...government run and otherwise, there are many options available for you if you feel stuck.

4. And lastly, but certainly not least...That reset button can be a LIFE-SAVER. Wow, there have been times when I couldn't WAIT to move on to something new. Inter-personal conflicts, nasty work schedules, long commutes, stressful job situations...they all GO AWAY with a new move. Even without all of those things, a fresh new job and fresh new outlook can make a huge difference in your mental and emotional well being.

So what are your thoughts? Any other pros and/or cons of military spouse career-hood you'd like to share? Any suggestions for overcoming difficulties? Please click on the comment button and share your opinions!

Next week I'll be listing careers that withstand the military lifestyle. Tune in next Monday, or leave your suggestions on my Facebook Page! And while your at it...why not 'like' my page and get regular updates on Military Mondays and my new book, DEPENDENT, due out July 29th, 2014!


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