Step 1: Choosing the Perfect Military Spouse Career
When I finished high school and was headed off to college I had no idea what I wanted to study. My school had over 150 majors, and I had always imagined that someday I would just find the perfect career. You know, the one that would be rewarding (financially and otherwise), easy to balance with my personal and family responsibilities, enjoyable, etc. So, since I had no idea what I really wanted to do, I decided to simply eliminate the majors that described careers I didn’t want to do. I started school that fall with over 50 majors still on my list of possibilities.
I was headed in the right direction because education is one of the best ways to improve your life, but it turns out it’s a lot easier to decide what education you need if you have an idea of what career you’re working toward. So step 1 of going back to school is choosing your career.
But finding the perfect career is often a process of trial and error. Some people luck out and get it right (or at least tolerably right) on the first or second try and others struggle their whole lives to find a career they can really enjoy. Add in the challenges of being a military spouse and moving every few years, and it can be downright daunting to choose a career path. However, regardless of your career goals or level of education, there are a few considerations all military spouses should weigh as they’re choosing a career to improve their chance of career satisfaction later on.
Military families relocate 2.4 times more often than civilian families—every 2-3 years on average. All that moving around can make it really tricky to advance in a career because you can’t gain long-term experience with a single employer and employers can be hesitant to hire someone if they think you’ll be gone in just a few years.
This specific challenge is one of the primary reasons the MyCAA education funding program was started, and it’s why it focuses on helping military spouses train for careers that can move with them.
When you’re considering different career paths, take portability into account. Choose a career that will have opportunities no matter where you go or a career you can pack up and take with you. A few examples include nearly anything in healthcare—medical administrative assistant, nurse, pharmacy technician—or something you can do at home like medical transcription, medical coding and billing, freelancing as a content writer or graphic designer, or being a direct sales rep.
Licensing & Certification Transfer
Workers who have higher levels of education are more likely to work in fields that require a license, and occupational licenses don’t always transfer from state to state. On average, military spouses are more educated than their civilian peers (84% have completed some college, 25% hold a bachelor’s degree, and 10% hold an advanced degree), but with frequent relocations the transfer (or lack thereof) of licenses and credentials can be a real problem.
Before choosing a career and committing to years in school, become familiar with the licensing and certification requirements of your chosen profession. It’s helpful to answer questions like these:
- Will I need to gain experience hours within a specific state in order to work?
- Will I need to re-certify if I move?
- Can I work in my field without a license or certification?
- Do all states recognize my education/credentials or might I have to complete additional education in order to work in a different state?
This all doesn’t mean you have to settle for a second-rate career—there are plenty of good careers without licensing requirements as well as those with nationally recognized credentials. A few examples of fields with nationally recognized credentials are pharmacy technician, medical coder, computer technician, and computer programmer.
Nationwide Job Opportunities
Last but not least, with frequent relocations, it makes the most sense to choose a career that will have opportunities no matter where you go. Some careers are just specific to certain locations—for example, you’ll probably struggle to find a job as a ranch hand in New York City or as a shipyard worker in Albuquerque. These are extreme examples, but the point is that choosing a career with opportunities and demand nationwide maximizes your chances of being able to find a job regardless of where you live.
A great resource if you’re trying to judge the opportunities and growth for a specific career is the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. You can find information on career growth, geographic specific salary information, top employers for different occupations, and more. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also creates lists of the fastest growing occupations (67% of careers on this list were in healthcare) and the careers with the largest projected number of job openings (over 40% of these jobs were in business and finance).
Once you’ve chosen a career, gaining the necessary education can also be a challenge. As a military spouse, online education, different funding options, and non-traditional programs are all things you should consider in making your education choice.
Want a quick reference on choosing a military-friendly career? Check out Career Step’s infographic on finding the perfect military spouse career!