Military spouses need jobs. More than that, military spouses need new jobs every few years.
And that means that now, even if you are enjoying your favorite job yet or your time home with your kids, you have to start thinking about your next job. And you have to start thinking about it today.
That is what we heard from the Marine Corps wives we met in San Diego at Military.com's The Spouse Experience.
We always learn things at Spouse X, so it came as no surprise that we learned something from those we met at our most recent Spouse Experience at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego.
Most spouses are looking for work
But we have to admit, we were surprised by just what we learned: That many of you -- in fact, most of you -- are looking for work.
Maybe not work today. And maybe not work tomorrow. But you are starting to look down the road at your future employment -- at your next duty station, life after baby, your job during transition -- and you are trying to get your ducks in a row.
That is great news, since juggling the demands of military life and a professional career can be hard work.
"It's the universal truth that they don't tell you about when you sign your marriage certificate," said Marine Corps wife Krista, who, like so many of the spouses in San Diego, recognizes that at some point in the next three years, she will probably be launching another job search.
"But getting employed one time is hard enough. Getting employed again and again? That's really hard. That's military life: Get orders. Move to base. Find a home. Find a job. Get orders. Rinse, repeat," Krista said.
Figuring out how to keep your eyes open for the next opportunity at the same time can seem complicated. "I try to stay on the lookout for good contacts and opportunities," Krista said, "but it's harder than you'd think. I never know what to say."
I can do anything!
For many spouses, the cold, hard truth seems like the only appropriate answer. "I can do anything!" we hear from military spouses nationwide. "I will do anything!"
And while we have no doubt that is true, it does not land you the job. Why?
That is something we focused on in depth in San Diego, and it is something Amanda Crowe spends a lot of timing thinking about.
Give helpers something to go on.
As a Navy wife and the brain trust behind In Gear Career, Amanda spends every waking hour she can connecting military spouses to employers and preparing them for the job search.
"Have you ever asked your spouse, 'What do you want for dinner?' and gotten the answer, 'Anything is fine,' " Amanda asked the audience in San Diego.
"It's maddening isn't it? You didn't ask what they wanted for dinner because you KNEW what you wanted to fix them. You asked because you needed some ideas to go on. That's why spouses get asked 'what do you do' or 'what kind of job are you looking for' -- because people need something to go on before they can help you."
So while the cold, hard truth may be that you really are willing to do anything, the colder, harder truth is that saying that will get you nowhere. Making connections, however, will.
"Eighty percent of jobs come through networking," Amanda said. "Through the little interactions we have with people every day. Friends. Friends of friends. People in the Kiss and Ride Line. Someone you sit next to at a school function. Someone you talk to at work or in line at the salad works."
Step One: Start talking
If you are not yet talking to your friends, neighbors and kiss-and-ride line compatriots about your current job situation and what you are looking for next, you are missing a great opportunity to network with the people around you.
"I'm trying to talk to people at the places we'll most likely be next," Krista said. "I can't know for sure yet where that will be, but I can guess."
Good guess in hand, Krista is starting to make connections in her future (potential) homes. But once she starts talking, she is not sure what she is supposed to say.
Step Two: Figure out your pitch
It might seem like the hard part, but figuring out how to introduce yourself to a potential contact and focusing them on your employment situation is a lot easier than you think.
Amanda urges us to think about this in three quick steps she calls a "Now to Next" speech:
First, think about what you're doing right now.
Second, think about what you want to do one day. It doesn't even have to be the job you want tomorrow. It could be your dream job you are hoping for 30 years from now.
And then -- this is the easy part -- you have one sentence to bridge the "now" with the "next."
Take Krista. Right now, she's a medical assistant in a small practice office. She loves her job. That's her now. Her next?
"I really want to go back to school to become a doula," she said. "I don't know if it's possible, but I dream of it."
We think dreaming of it is a good start, but talking about it is even better. Why? Because someone Krista is talking to one day might know someone who is a doula and would be happy to let her shadow her at work one day.
Or maybe she will meet someone who works in a birthing center that is looking for medical assistants. If she never tells them about her dream job, how will they know to connect her?
All together, Krista's Now to Next speech could be: "I'm Krista, [now] I've spent the last two years working as a medical assistant and [bridge] I'm passionate about helping women access quality, holistic healthcare. I [next] hope to work as a doula one day doing just that for women in labor."
"That sounds easy," said Krista.
Step Three: Choose a Next. And another.
Even if it takes a few tries to find a Now to Next you are comfortable with, don't give up. Practicing it with family and friends will help you get it perfect, and then you will be ready the next time someone asks what you do.
For some spouses, though, the Next turned out to be the hardest part. "I've been married into the military for two decades," one Marine wife said. "I've already had a career. My problem is, I don't know what I want to do next. I just know I don't want to do that."
She wasn't alone. A number of spouses in the room agreed -- the now was easy, but the next? That takes effort. And that's OK.
The Defense Department says that about 15 percent of military spouses are actively looking for work at any given moment, and many of those are spouses whose answer to the Next is still "I'll do anything."
For them, figuring out a concrete answer for what they want to do tomorrow is critical. But if you are just looking for a job down the line, things might seem more open-ended.
How can you think about what job might be right for you?
Forbes thinks you can find your dream job with a (slightly complicated but still doable) equation. The Muse has rounded up 11 tests that should give you the answer within minutes. But our approach? Much simpler.
Start with what you're passionate about. Do you love helping people? Communicating? Creating? Whatever your interests, there are positions available in your field -- you just have to put a name to them.
"You have to think about your dream job," Amanda urged the audience of military spouses in San Diego. "You deserve it."
We know you deserve your dream job. And we know that for those of you among the 15 percent still actively looking for work, you deserve any job. But however much we need them, jobs do not just materialize magically every three years when we PCS.
Instead, they are things we spend our whole lives looking for -- even when we're happily employed, stay-at-home parents, and totally off the market. We do "Now to Next" because it works for military spouses.