The Importance of Staying Connected Professionally
I created Reeder Consulting for two reasons. The first is obvious: to help high school students have insight into their natural abilities so when they go to college, or into the workforce, they know what options exist that matches what they love.
An almost more important mission is helping individuals who have lost their identity. This is due to many different reasons. Whether it’s a person shifting careers because they need a change, needing to go back to school for more education, or a more critical decision of being forced to now become a provider for their family due to unforeseen circumstances.
As a retired military spouse myself, I cannot begin to tell you the number of spouses I have met who lost their professional path. With the challenges of moving every 3 years, or more frequently, it’s almost impossible for anyone to have a traditional career with progression and longevity. As a result, many give up and take on the role of service to the family and the military mission.
Great focus has finally been put on hiring and supporting military spouses. Many military families need a second income and military spouses need their own identity. I had a conversation with a person at an event a few weeks ago and their comment to me when we talked about the incredible talent and education these individuals bring to the table was, “Yes, and the military pays for their degrees so military spouses are educated.” Knowing that many people don’t truly understand the demographics of military spouses, I politely corrected her and said, “Actually, many spouses come into the military life WITH their own degrees, often advanced ones, completely unrelated to the military life.” The misconception that military spouses are not educated, well enough qualified professionals, is a stigma that persists and must be contested.
Additionally, I find time after time that spouses become so consumed with the military life, they forget the very important aspect of networking and professional growth. Yes, they network at each new duty station and they are blessed to put roots down in multiple locations, but they forget to build their “professional” contacts. Then, when the time comes to retire, or heaven forbid leave due to a marriage ending, they struggle. Why? Because they’ve neglected their own professional passions.
I’ve watched individuals with UNBELIEVABLE skillsets accept jobs for $10 an hour because that was literally all they could get…IF they could even get that! And although many companies are taking on the mission of hiring military spouses, the struggle continues to be real. The Military Officers Association of America and the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University released results from a national study focusing on military spouse’s employment, which found 90% of female military spouses are unemployed or overqualified for the positions they hold. Military spouses also earn 38% less than their civilian counterparts.
Here’s a roadmap to help anyone who struggles to get back into the workforce and find their passion.
1. “Human has been taken out of Human Resource!”
This is a quote that came to me as I watched the “soul crushing” process of submitting your qualifications for positions. The hoops you must jump through to just hit the send button on a position makes you want to pay someone to sneak your resume into the door of the hiring person. Oh, by the way, prepare to never hear back. Yes, you will spend HOURS filling out the same information over and over again, which is already outlined on your snazzy resume because your resume isn’t enough and no one has figured out a way to connect the online system to every other company making it more efficient for all. Applying for positions is the most frustrating and self-defeating experience you will go through. Then you find out 90% of jobs are obtained through who you know! This is where you find the “Human” in the experience. Maintain your connections and build your professional circle.
2. Educate, Learn, Grow
Just because you have your degree, which you’ve worked incredibly hard for, don’t let your licenses or certifications expire. Great strides have been made for maintaining professional credentials with the Military Family Licensing Act. Yes, Continuing Education Units (CEU’s) are a pain but make it a priority to continue to find educational opportunities to brush up on skills. Coursera, an education platform that partners with top universities and organizations worldwide, offers courses online for anyone to take for very low cost. Connect with continuing education departments through local colleges and high schools. Bottom line, continue to educate yourself to stay relevant. Continue to learn to stay excited which ultimately allows you to grow professionally. Learning never ends.
3. Volunteer in your community, NOT just on bases!
Volunteering is the fabric of the military spouse community. I’ve been all over the world, had incredible life experiences and I would put down all the money I have on the military spouses being the ones who could literally change the world. Every time I attend an event and see the power these individuals have together, it takes my breath away. But often times, the world gets “one-sided” and we forget to be part of a larger picture. The communities that support military bases are 100% committed to giving to our service members and families. However we often times are reluctant to give too much of ourselves because we know the time will come to say “adios.” It’s a hard commitment, however, giving back to the cities we live in, making authentic connections, serving and giving to organizations give us balance. One of the best experiences I had was chairing a fighter wing fundraiser in Utah. Part of that was working with community leaders to raise money for military families. Getting to know the individuals who were making things happen led me to learn from great leaders. And when 20 of them came to San Antonio for a tour of military bases, my husband and I got a call to join them for dinner. Never pass the opportunity to connect with your community because those individuals become part of your professional circle.
4. Create Your Own Journey!
There is a growing trend that is providing an incredible option for spouses who aren’t able to get back into the workforce…start your own company! I love seeing the trend of rock star individuals who are taking the bull by the horns and creating their own destiny. I met a spouse at an event a few weeks ago who blew my socks off. Passionate, engaging, full of energy and co-owner of Tutors By Base, who employ military spouses and veterans as tutors in and around military communities. BRILLIANT! Organizations such as The Milspo Project, a military spouse entrepreneur group, who believes just because you marry someone in the military, doesn’t mean you can’t be influential in business and experience a profoundly satisfying and successful life. BRILLIANT! See, I told you military spouses are changing the world. But seriously, do not let someone’s approval of you for a position define your worth. Let me say it again. “Do NOT let someone’s approval of you for a position DEFINE your WORTH!” Know what you care about. Know what you're great at. Know where you want to put your energy so that when you wake up in the morning, you can’t WAIT to get out of bed.
5. Speaking of Journey…Don’t Stop “Believin! “
Whether you are a military spouse or a person going through a transition in life, “believin” can be one of the hardest things to keep doing. I speak from personal experience. I thought I coined the phrase “I had no idea when I married my spouse that I wouldn’t be able to maintain my career. It NEVER occurred to me.” I can’t tell you how many times I read that exact line. I had both a bachelor and master’s degree, worked for five years in my career and traveled the world before I said “I Do.” And because I fell in love with a man in uniform, everything about my career aspirations changed and I never saw it coming. When you live in locations that do not allow you to work because of country agreements, you begin the slippery slope of losing your career even though you don’t realize it.
What I know for certain in working with individuals who are going through trying to determine their path, you can’t stop trying. I work one-on-one with individuals who are at a crossroad. Helping people learn who they really are at the core of their being and career avenues that are great matches for their interest helps them have hope. Assessments with expert interruption is another tool in the tool kit but more importantly…Don’t Stop Believin!