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How to Get Free Career Counseling for Military Spouses

Barbara West, program coordinator for the Family Member Employment Assistance Program offers Kishwar Speir, a Marine spouse, literature on interviewing after the “‘Acing the Interview”’ workshop at Quantico. Ameesha Felton/Marine Corps
Barbara West, program coordinator for the Family Member Employment Assistance Program offers Kishwar Speir, a Marine spouse, literature on interviewing after the “‘Acing the Interview”’ workshop at Quantico. Ameesha Felton/Marine Corps

Do you ever wish there was a career placement officer for military spouses, too? Wouldn't it be awesome if your service member brought home their new assignment, PCS orders and a shining, new, well-paying, career-advancing job for you, too?

Ain't gonna happen. Even though the research shows that military life makes it more difficult for spouses to find work, the one in four military spouses who are currently looking for a job are responsible for our own careers.

But we are not alone in the process. Free career counseling is available six days per week by phone for military spouses through the Department of Defense Spouse Employment Career Opportunities program.

Best-Kept Secret of Spouse Employment

This kind of career counseling is expensive in the outside world. According to the International Coach Federation, the average cost for an hour of career coaching is $161. Military spouses can use the services of the career counselors as many times as they like at no cost. 

Often, the qualified career counselor is also military spouse, veteran or family member and they already understand all the challenges of military life.  

So what can you expect from career counseling and how do you access it?

Expect to stop 'shoulding' all over yourself.

Everyone in your life probably has an opinion about what kind of work you "should" do. Your service member thinks you "should" work at a job that makes the most money. Your friend thinks you "should" come work in her office (even though her job looks like an epic bore to you). Your mom thinks you "should" be a dental hygienist again since she paid for your schooling.

What if you had someone on your side who did not have a dog in this fight? What if you had someone who only cared about helping you finding a job that you would like to do? That is where a SECO counselor can help. Their only job is to help you identify what you want to do, access your benefits, and talk you through the process. 

Expect to work from the inside out.

Research reveals that when you work in the area of your natural strengths, you like what you do. Then you get better at what you do. Then you work at it even more. Then you become successful at what you do. Voila!

But what if you don't know what your areas of strengths are yet? Or what if you want to be a mompreneur but don't know what you would sell? Or what if you are on-ramping after years as a stay-at-home parent and your areas of strength have changed since the last time you had a job? 

That's where a SECO counselor can really help.You and your SECO counselor might start with some career assessments to reveal some of your own interests and the jobs that go with them. They have access to a variety of tests that can help you come up with a list of prospects that make you look forward to going to work.

Expect to be a participant, not a recipient.

If you like the counselor you get, you will meet with the same counselor each time so that you don't have to repeat your entire story over and over. (If you don't like your counselor, you can request another.)

You need to know that the SECO counselors are not going to get the job for you. They won't write your resume for you. They won't tell you which job offer to take.

They will help you identify what it is exactly that you want to do. They help you develop a plan that can take you from aptitude testing through exploring back-to-options to resume writing and practicing your interview skills.

They can also help you figure out whether you want to work full- or part-time, telecommute, establish your own business or find federal employment.

Expect to get started today.

It is easy to get in touch with a SECO counselor. You can start by calling Military OneSource at 1-800-342-9647. Tell them that you are interested in career counseling, and they will set you up with an appointment right away. 

If you would prefer to read more about the program, you can see how it fits into the DoD's Four Pillars of Spouse Education and Career Opportunities here or explore all your career options through the DoD here.

Even though military spouses are responsible for their own employment, it's good to know that there is someone trained and able and ready to stand by you on the journey to a job you will love.

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Jacey Eckhart is the former Director of Spouse and Family Programs at and a military sociologist.  Since 1996, Eckhart’s take on military families has been featured in her syndicated column, her book The Homefront Club, and her award winning CDs These Boots and I Married a Spartan??

Most recently she has been featured as a military family subject matter expert on NBC Dateline, CBS morning news, CNN, NPR and the New York Times.  Eckhart is an Air Force brat, a Navy wife and an Army mom.  

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