In case you missed it, because you were stuffing all your belongings (including but not limited to: your kid’s Xbox, your in-laws’ fine china and your last straw) into a suitcase and moving across the country, career culture is changing! Which is great news for military spouses whose career paths are full of uncertainties. With the average US soldier receiving a permanent change of station roughly every three years (1), gaining meaningful employment as a military spouse is– in a word–tough. Luckily, choosing a portable career can keep you on an upward trajectory as you move across the map.
Portable careers have come to the fore in the past few years with technology making it easy to be in two places at once. According to the research done (2), there is no single answer to what a portable career looks like; it could be entirely virtual, or mean moving within the same company, which addresses perhaps the most disheartening aspect of PCSing: leaving behind compelling opportunities for growth. Portable careers are becoming more and more common with certain employers (3) taking the lead to accommodate those married to those in uniform. But if moving within your current company isn’t going to happen, there are other ways to keep your career running.
After eliminating the immovable options, you will find an array of jobs that fit into your suitcase (4). Once you’ve picked a path that you feel confident about, there are actions you can take to mitigate the risks of starting fresh. One of your assets will be your education; go online and get a relevant certification (5). The Military offers scholarships and financial aid through the Spouse Education & Career Opportunities program (6) that will make relevant skills readily attainable. They also offer up to $500 USD in compensation for getting re-certified in a state where the validity isn’t conveyable (7). However, if you’re not in a position to be spending money, sites like Wordpress.com and FlexJobs offer 100% virtual job opportunities. Finding or creating a portable career is not a guaranteed escape from work-related stress, but it is an example of how the way we work is changing. Victoria Adams, a nurse practitioner, PhD candidate, military spouse and Mentor with the ACP Veteran and Military Spouse Mentoring Program provides some insight on her own career journey.
Victoria started her career in nursing long before meeting her now-husband in 2011. The transition from civilian to military life provided the expected challenges, and when the first PCS orders came, there was no other option than to move onward. But as the PCSes kept coming, job searches became harder, “I felt like I needed to prove myself more because I had so many different jobs and locations on my resume.” Victoria is currently a nurse practitioner on the virtual medical team at OneMedical, and consults with patients virtually. It wasn’t what she envisioned at the start of her career, but she chose remote work because she foresaw a need to explain herself at every turn. Employers saw her husband’s job as a defining factor in her own career. When asked why this was, Victoria made the connection to work-life balance. Career oriented military spouses make serious commitments to both their marriages and their professional lives, something that traditional employers don’t appreciate.
Modern career culture places a boundary between home and work, but workers like single parents, people with disabilities and military spouses (8) need employers to be adaptable, “I don’t want preferred treatment, but I do need understanding. I give 100% to my job and am giving 100% to my marriage as well.” Victoria found that her portable career offered an alternative to the frustrations that people with demanding personal lives face in certain environments.
Working remotely is not the panacea for every hardship military spouses face, but it is a viable option for those who take the time to pursue it. For Victoria, an important aspect of life as a career-oriented military spouse is remembering who you are at home and in your career, “Don’t be intimidated; no one is doing you a favor by giving you a job. Ask upfront about work-life balance, and be honest from the beginning about your timeline and what you need.” Whether you decide to take your current position with you, start somewhere with eventual remote work in mind or synthesize your skillset into a job you can do from your living room, your path is up to you. The perception of what a career can be will shift because workers who are fed up with their options will shift it. As a military spouse with a career of their own, there are choices you might not initially see. Seek them yourself, and if they don’t show up, invent them.
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