5 Fantastic Spouse Jobs in Military Towns
There are a several things you can count on every military town to have: An abundance of camouflage, "half my heart" stickers on almost every car you see, underemployed spouses and jobs.
Yep: Jobs. Real, worth-it, growth potential jobs. And these aren't just jobs on base or jobs for those in camo, these are civilian jobs that exist in every military town in the continental United States.
To find them, you just have to know where to look.
We spoke to dozens of military wives who have looked and found those jobs to discover just what kind of employment real military wives are getting -- and loving.
We don't just mean the super well-connected spouses or the ones with fancy degrees. We mean the ones just like you: Real military spouses who are trying to figure out how, exactly, they might get and retain real work in a real military town.
None of their suggestions mentioned bars or strip clubs.
"Although I hear that's great money," joked Arin, a young Navy wife. "I know I need to work, but that kind of thing is not for me. I don't want to wait tables or serve drinks. I want a job I can go to during the day and make enough to save a little bit and feel like I'm contributing to the family."
If, like Arin, you are looking for a career you can pursue from any military town in America, consider these five trajectories:
1. If you want a career in education ... Substitute teacher.
"Subbing is putting your foot in the door," Arin explains. She has an associate's degree in Early Childhood education. "I really want to work with young children, but there were no jobs at the CDC. A friend I met through my husband's company suggested I start as a sub."
Arin began subbing for a local school just off the base a year ago, and she was just recently asked to come on full time. "We are a state with VPK -- free pre-k for anyone -- and I work with the 4-year-olds," she tells us. "It's just what I need to be able to get a job at the CDC later. It's a great first job."
Moreover, she knows that no matter where they move next, subbing will always be an option.
"I know that no matter where we are moved to next, I can do this. I can sub, and then get hired full time if I'm good enough."
2. If you are looking for a career in business ... Real estate agent.
Another successful career track to pursue in America's military towns is anything related to real estate.
With every BAH check that's issued, there is a realtor someplace waiting to cash it.
"It's true," said Kathy, a Coast Guard wife. "There are rentals wherever you go, because everyone is moving."
To maintain that rental infrastructure, real estate offices are filled with teams who lease, buy, sell and maintain properties, exposing you to a number of different business practices.
"Working in real estate, you gain strong business management skills," Kathy said. "You learn on the ground. You practice sales, networking and a lot of independence. If you get really good at selling or leasing, you can go independent and even be self-employed. That's my long-term goal"
While many states have licensed brokers who are solely responsible for closing deals, most real estate companies also work with agents who show homes and help manage the process.
"Just go to the real estate company near you, or the one you use, or if someone from church works at one, and tell them you want to learn the ropes. Realtors are really friendly -- it's a job requirement. So they'll be happy to talk to you about the process," Kathy said.
"It's a really good skill to have in your back pocket," agrees Molly, an Army wife in Alabama. "I never thought I'd be doing it, but I love working in real estate. It's a great job. So flexible, and you'll never find a town that doesn't have a real estate agent!"
3. If you're interested in hospitality ... Hotel administration.
"If you have big dreams, do not settle for being a waitress at a big box restaurant," urges Rachel, also an Army wife. "I waited tables for six years. Planned on working my way into management. Never happened."
Rachel hit a crossroads many military spouses know too well. "The money wasn't great, the hours were hard, and although it was fun, it wasn't going anywhere," she tells us.
Rachel enjoyed the camaraderie of working in a restaurant, but the negatives soon began to outweigh the positives when she realized she had no growth potential.
"They saw me as a waitress, nothing more. At some places, like Starbucks, they really promote from within, but that's rare. And a lot of those jobs are geographically organized, so just because you work your way up here doesn't mean you have any chance of being transferred into the same position when you PCS."
Rachel knew she needed to do something about her employment situation, but she didn't know what.
"My hands were tied," she said. "We needed that check to pay my car payment."
On a whim, she applied for a job she saw advertised in the local paper. "It was for a front desk manager at a local mid-range hotel. You know the types. They serve breakfast and give you cookies at night. They're everywhere."
Rachel quickly learned the ropes at her new job. "You have to be friendly and a problem solver," she noted -- and then it came time to PCS.
"I was so nervous about telling my boss, but she was really understanding. And it was the easiest PCS ever," she said. "There were three of our group's hotels near our new post, and they transferred me without problem."
At her new station, she even found that she was given more responsibilities and methods for job growth.
"I'm now the day manager at the hotel and I'm checking out restaurant management jobs. Hospitality experience helps you move really easily job to job. It's people skills and responsibility. Every job needs that, you know?"
4. If you're good at numbers ... Get a job at the bank.
Jennifer is a 20-year-old Marine Corps wife. Having never had a "real job" before, she was extremely nervous about how she would bring in an income when her husband finished boot camp.
"I didn't think anyone would hire me," she confessed. "I had a high school degree and a wedding band. That's it."
Intent on finding a job, Jennifer combed the online want ads like those at Monster.com as soon as they moved into their new apartment.
Seeing an ad for a bank teller, she decided she might as well send in an application. "And I walked it in by hand," she said. "I was careful to dress like every bank teller I'd ever seen -- boring and in black."
It was a small move, but an important one: Jennifer walked in the door and looked the part. With her courage and enthusiasm for the job, she soon found herself in the second round of interviews.
"When they called me to tell me I have the job, I cried," she said. "I was worried I'd never get anything, and then I got something off the bat."
On her first day as a teller, Jennifer got to know her co-workers and soon realized that what she thought would be high barriers to entry are actually few for those who are presentable, good with numbers, have stellar references, and enjoy interacting with people.
"I worked a little bit in high school at a book store, but I frequently ran the till there, so they knew I had some experience with money."
Now that experience is turning into a possible career. Since she began work 14 months ago, Jennifer has been promoted once and gone to three different training courses paid for by the bank.
"They'll help me get promoted again and I can use them to get hired again down the line," she said. "I'll list them on my resume under education now."
"I never thought of myself as a banker," she said, "but I really love it."
5. If you want to save the world ... Get involved in social services.
"There are always social support agencies surrounding military bases," said Dani, also a Marine Corps wife.
Dani lives at Camp Lejeune with her husband of five years. "I have a college degree in social work that I finished when we moved here, but I dreamed of joining the Peace Corps."
Laughing at the irony, she said, is what keeps her going. "I thought I'd be in some red-dirt African village saving the world," she said, "but then I realized I could do that right here."
Dani is a Guardian Ad Litem, or the court-appointed person who helps children represent themselves in court. "Mostly, there are these really bad custody cases I help solve," she said. "The mom will only want what's best for her, and the dad will want it his way. The child has no one to speak for him unless I'm there."
Dani stumbled upon the GAL program by chance. "I was researching local organizations at the library, and I read something about it. The city paid for my training, and now I can practice all over the county. I plan to apply to social worker programs soon, and this is the kind of experience they want."
The growth potential for her job is good, no matter where her husband is transferred next. "That's the best thing about social agency jobs. They are all over the place. Every rural town has someone making sure people are OK, so I know I'll always have work."
Being confident that as the spouse, you will always have work is a luxury in many military families. But if you are looking for a job that will be in the next place you PCS, consider these five career tracks.
"Having a job feels like a miracle when I see how many wives don't have jobs and need them," Arin said. "But knowing it will be there when I PCS is the real miracle."
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