“I keep reading that if I only chase my dreams, the job will just appear,” said Sarah, an Army wife. “That’s not happening for me. I could do anything, but nothing happens.”
In today’s job market, Sarah isn’t the only military spouse dreaming/hoping/praying for work. The local economy, PCS moves and time might seem like they are all working against you.
"As soon as I get someplace with a job search, it’s time to move,” Sarah says. “And then I have to start another all over again.”
So how do military spouses keep going?
Courage in a job search isn’t about having the guts to call an employer, although you should do that. It isn’t about going to a networking event so you can connect with your future colleagues, although you should do that, too.
Showing courage in a job search is actually much simpler, and it’s something you can start to do from the comfort of your own home.
But first, you have to put into words what it is you really can do.
1. Bravely identify what it is you actually want.
“I keep telling people if they know of a job, tell me, because I’ll do it,” Sarah says. “But nothing happens.”
Sarah’s problem isn’t unique. Many job seekers want -- or need -- a job, regardless of what the actual job is. But employers don’t want to hire just anyone who wants to work. They want someone who can do something specific and do that specific thing better than anyone else.
“I am looking for someone who has experience,” says Lynne, wife of a retired sailor. Lynne works for a midsize IT company, and she sees applications from military spouses cross her desk on a regular basis.
“I am in a hiring position at our firm, and I know how much a military wife has to offer. But I keep having applicants come in and who haven’t articulated what they can actually do, and I can’t sell that to my boss. You have to show me what you can do well.”
So how do you tell Lynne and her peers what it is you actually offer? You start by thinking hard on what you really want to do.
“What do you do each day you like the most? That’s where you get started,” Lynne says. Think about the parts of jobs you’ve held that you like best.
Your job application is where you sell yourself: What is it your future employer can actually count on you for? Sure, you can do anything, but in your do-anything job, what is it that makes you invaluable?
2. Admit to yourself what you won’t do.
While being able to articulate what it is you actually want to do -- and what you actually offer a company -- is important, so is being able to identify what you really cannot do. “If we’re being honest, I would be a bad accountant,” Sarah says.
A job search is all about being honest, and that takes some bravery. While you don’t need to snap your fingers and announce to an interviewer all the things that you won’t do, you do need to get real with yourself.
Make a written list of the things you don’t want to do on the job. Just because you could buckle down and do those tasks, would you be any good at doing them? Would you want to do those things for a long time?
Identifying these skills will help you do two things right away: Figure out what you can do to overcome your difficulties and avoid those you can’t best.
“Once I narrowed down what I can actually do or I’m willing to do, thinking about what I can’t do was a lot easier,” Sarah admits.
For others, like Marine Corps wife Heather, narrowing down what they cannot do is actually the most difficult part of the job search.
“The only thing harder is rejection letters by the dozen,” she laughs. “But really, it’s hard. When you need the money, you really do think you can do anything. I worked in retail at our last base and a bar before that. But I am having a hard time finding a job now because my resume is so all-over-the-place.”
If your resume suffers from the same kind of confusion, simplify your can’t-dos by focusing on your cans. What did your last two jobs have in common? What kind of skills did you hone on those jobs?
“I really learned people skills,” says Heather. “Working at the bar, I loved talking to customers, and I basically talked to customers all the time in retail. But I hated working night shifts. I have kids, and I want to be there for bed.”
The limits you draw on your job search don’t have to be based on your own inabilities. Your can’t do’s can be temporal, geographic or industry-related. They can be based on your kids’ bedtime.
“It just helps to know what you can’t actually do,” says Sarah. “Because now I know what I’m not going to waste my time on. It sucks admitting you won’t do something when you’re looking for a job, but I’m not going to start collecting trash anytime soon. So I really was already saying no to some things in my head.”
3. Have the courage to show up.
Focusing on your strengths and acknowledging your limitations represent nine-tenths of the job hunt battle, but the last bit is the most important: Keep showing up.
That kind of courage is where most people lose their focus. Elaine Varelas, the Boston Globe’s “Job Doc,” says that the average job search will take a couple of months.
“The rule of thumb is that it will take one month of job searching for every $10,000 of salary that you were earning. If you were making $30,000, it will take three months, $60,000 six months,” she advises. “It’s hard for most people to imagine a job search taking that long, and it may become a challenge to focus on the day-to-day search.”
In fact, the hardships of the job search are causing more and more Americans to leave the job market altogether.
As a military spouse, you don’t have that luxury. You know that in the next few years, you are bound to move, and to prepare for that, you need to be ready to launch your job search over and over again.
The good news is that every time you do, you will be two steps ahead of your competitors just by knowing what it is you can’t do and what you can.
“It takes courage to think through all this stuff,” Sarah admits. “But once you do, you feel a lot better about your job search. Then it’s not about courage, it’s just finding the perfect fit.”
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