JULY 13, 2021 – At some point in your career, you’ve likely felt like there was room for you to grow, but the idea of pursuing further education or professional development was sidelined by family and personal responsibilities. Factor in the unique struggle’s military spouses face daily, like permanent changes of station or managing your household while your partner is away on deployment, and professional development can feel daunting at best.
Despite these feelings, there are several tools and tricks military spouses can utilize to grow in their careers, regardless of past experience, location or plans to move. Here are a few tips military spouses can take to practice professional development:
Communicate your needs with your organization
Maybe you saw an advertisement on LinkedIn for a conference you’d like to attend, or maybe you’re just ambitious and hungry for knowledge. No matter the circumstance, the first step towards growth starts with a conversation with your supervisors. Clearly communicate your long- and short-term objectives with your team, whether it be obtaining a new certification in your current position or exploring other roles at the company – discussing your goals shows transparency, motivation and willingness to learn.
Overcoming anxiety about conversations with supervisors can be intimidating, but is worth it when self-advocating. Sometimes companies will pick up the cost for professional development courses or programs, so it never hurts to ask your supervisor if that option is possible. When asking about professional development programs, the key is to communicate exact expenses and how your learned skills will add value to your organization as a whole.
Coming prepared with answers and solutions when approaching conversations with your supervisor shows you’re proactive and knowledgeable in your area of interest. The S.T.A.R. (situation, task, action, resolution) method is a great way to approach these conversations. You are putting your request and its subsequent results into the lens of how it will better the company’s needs and functionality as a whole. You can also stress that professional development is a low-cost solution to a long-term benefit.
Develop regardless of physical location, prior experience, or service status
Pursuing professional development to reach career and personal goals requires a lot of self-reflecting and planning. Where do you ultimately want to be in your career? What steps do you need to take to get there? Creating a professional development path helps you visualize your journey and allows you to identify key actions needed to get there, including where external support such as courses, further education and networking fits in.
As my husband prepares for retirement from active duty, we’re starting to have conversations about how life will look after his transition. He’s at the point of his career where he’s focused on settling down, and I’m on the opposite side of the spectrum where I feel like I’m flourishing in my work environment. These changes are causing a bit of a shift in our home dynamic but approaching these conversations as a team ensures both you and your partner’s needs are addressed. Though most people don’t consider career changes a family move, viewing the experience in this lens helps foster clear communication between you and your spouse.
Even with remote work becoming more of a permanent fixture in corporate culture, you might be reluctant to the idea of attending virtual events, particularly if you are a full-time remote employee living outside the local area. However, it’s important to establish relationships with your colleagues and other professionals in your current or new industry. Virtual events provide the same meaningful connections and grant you the ability to develop a broader network on a national scale no matter where you currently reside or your past experience.
Broaden your network beyond just mil spouses
Since life as a military spouse can feel isolating at times, it’s only natural to want to flock to other spouses experiencing similar struggles. Military spouses are great for support both professionally and emotionally, but when it comes to networking, consider expanding your horizons beyond your normal comfort zone. Although it requires putting yourself out there, you can utilize social media platforms like LinkedIn and MeetUp to discover new events in your current or prospective industry. Through connecting with those in your field, you can learn more about job opportunities, professional development courses and general career advice to help further expand your network and gain insight into what others in the industry are up to.
Making the decision to further your career is not always an easy one, but it shouldn’t be one you need to make alone. Maintaining an open and honest line of communication with your employers, family, and professionals in your industry will help give you additional insights, confidence and tools to make a change in your career or take your role to the next level.
Charlene Wilde is an Army Chemical Corps. Veteran, military spouse, and Assistant Secretary for the American Armed Forces Mutual Aid Association (AAFMAA), our nation’s longest-standing military financial services non-profit organization.