Like many military spouses, I got a late start on my career. Early on, my husband and I agreed that it made the most sense for me to stay home with our son until he was in school. Unfortunately, by the time our son was ready to head to school, we were stationed overseas for two back-to-back assignments, further delaying the start of any meaningful career.
When we moved back to Washington, D.C. from overseas, I was so excited about the prospect of finally putting my degrees to work. Our son was going to be in school full time, my husband was going to a desk job, our extended family lived close by in case we needed help, and we were finally moving back home! I remember being so optimistic; I had a Master’s degree and spoke three languages, surely I would have my choice of interesting jobs.
I was wrong.
The DC area ranks the highest in the nation for people with advanced degrees. It is also a very multi-cultural area, and most people are multi-lingual. My ‘competitive edge’ wasn’t going to be enough to make me stand out. I kept a binder full of all the jobs I applied for and the rejection letters I received. That binder was getting impressively thick when I realized I was going nowhere fast.
Thankfully, I had a wonderful mentor who encouraged me to start networking and meeting more people. My job search had been full of a few ‘ups’ and some more debilitating ‘downs,’ up to that point, and I was at the end of my wits. I was willing to try just about anything within reason to get my foot in the door, so why not start networking? I pushed outside of my comfort zone and got serious about expanding my networks. I began to see everyone as a potential connection.
While I was auditing a class on Congress and the Military, one of the speakers really resonated with me. When the session ended, I walked up to introduce myself, thanked her for everything she and her organization did on behalf of military families, and finished with an offer to volunteer if they ever needed the extra help. When I got home, I followed up with an email note sharing a little more about my background, reiterating my offer of assistance, and attached my resume.
I was mildly surprised when an email came back encouraging me to apply for a job that she thought would be a great fit for within their organization. Fast forward a few months, I did end up going to work for that organization, but more importantly, I learned a very important lesson: over 85% of people will find their next job through the ‘hidden job market’ (jobs that are not actually posted to the general public).
In order to access these jobs, you need to expand your networks. There are no shortcuts…you need to get out there and meet people! Platforms like LinkedIn have helped equalize the playing field for military spouses, to a certain extent, allowing us to start networking before we even move to the next installation. But nothing replaces that face to face interaction. You’re going to have to get out there and meet people. Be on the lookout for conferences to hone your skills, learn about the latest resources, and meet people within your industry. Make sure you have a networking card, attend events, and be diligent about your follow up. This is what’s going to make the difference in your job search.
Entrepreneurs, the advice is just as relevant for you: when you move, you’re going to need to find your niche, your community and your new potential clients/customers.
Getting started can be a bit daunting. As an introvert, I understand this well! If you’d like some more information about Networking 101, check out our easy tutorial. If you’re ready to put your networking skills to work and eager to learn more about building portable careers, we hope you’ll join us at our 5th Annual Military Spouse Career Summit to meet like minded military spouses.
Remember: the online community is great, but nothing beats that face to face interaction. Get out there and start networking!
Ready to network? Get your pajamas, a glass of hot tea, and your laptop ready! Join NMFA and other military spouses – including myself – for a Facebook party tomorrow from 9pm-10pm EST as we chat, network, and share our education and career goals! If you’re ready to be #MoreThanASpouse: this is a virtual networking event you don’t want to miss!
Posted by Sue Hoppin, military spouse, Founder and President of the National Military Spouse Network–a professional development and networking membership organization supporting the professional career and entrepreneurial goals of military spouses