4 Tips for Building a Successful Career Despite Military Moves

A woman sits on a couch while working on a computer.

Military spouses who have balanced Permanent Change of Station (PCS) season and a career know the task can be hard. For many workers, employment means restarting an in-person career after every relocation. So how do you balance military life with progress in your work life?

That's the problem experts like Brian Alvarado are trying to solve. The lead of the military spouse program at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundations Hiring our Heroes, Alvarado and his team host classes, sponsor education and organize networking groups for career-minded military spouses.

Alvarado shared some of his best military spouse career tips on a recent episode of PCS with Military.com.

Listen now: 4 Tips for Building a Successful Career Despite Military Moves

Stay open to opportunity. It's easy to feel pressured to jump into a new career, get a different degree or pursue alternative education, because you're having trouble finding a job in your preferred field. But an even better step, Alvarado said, is to simply be open to opportunity.

"I tell spouses all the time, if you feel like you're tired of being told no and not finding what you're looking for, then go where the opportunity is," he said.

That could involve seeking roles in your field in places you didn't expect, he said. One way to do that is to look for jobs specifically with employers hiring as part of the Pentagon's Military Spouse Employment Partnership. Another is to lean into networking so when an opportunity comes available, you have a connection with the employer or someone they know to help you get your foot in the door, he said.

Advertise your military connection -- but only to the right people. It can be easy to slap "military spouse" in your LinkedIn profile or make it clear in your resume or cover letter. But that might not be the right step for every company, Alvarado warns.

"If you are applying for blanket positions that have nothing to do with the military community, then I say it's not necessary," he said.

But even that's not universally true, he said. If you're applying for a job where military experience is relevant to the role or connecting with a company that is specifically looking for military-connected applicants, stating your affiliation up front can be helpful.

"All of those hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of employers that are signed up now, and they're raising their hands saying, 'We want to hire military spouses,' they're saying, 'Well, where are the military spouses? How do we know that they're a military spouse?'" he said. "So my advice to the military spouse community is that if you are applying for a position within an organization that is a part of the Military Spouse Employment Partnership or a part of the Hiring Our Heroes programming, then in your cover letter, if they ask for one, say something about the fact that you know that they are a member of the Military Spouse Employment Partnership, and you'd like them to know that you're a military spouse."

Network. Alvarado is a big believer in the power of networking. He's seen dozens of military spouses find jobs through people they met within the military spouse community, and it's one of the reasons he's in his current role, he said.

"The ability to have an effective network that works for you and for those around you is really important," he said. "It's not about what you need today. It has to be something that is massaged and utilized and participated in on a constant basis."

One way to create a great network is to participate in a local career networking group through Hiring Our Heroes, he said. But local chapters of any veteran or spouse organization, clubs on base and even people you meet in your fitness class can also be a part of your network. The key, he said, is working at it.

"It needs to be diverse. It needs to be open. It needs to be deep," he said. "And it's a two-way street. You need to be participating as a giver in that as well."

Keep your end goal in mind. While some military spouses might need to take a job that's outside their desired career just to help make financial ends meet, the most important thing is to keep your end goal in mind, he said. That means always working and preparing for the situation where you might get to jump back into what you want to be doing, he said.

"My advice always is no matter what your current situation is and what you need to be doing, to always be working towards getting to where you really do want to be, and to make sure that when you get there, you are fully prepared," he said "You have all of the network in place, you have all of the resources, you have honed in all of the skills so that when you do get to that opportunity, you're ready."

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