My network helped me land a job that works to find military spouses meaningful employment.
By Anna Christen, Hiring Our Heroes, Deputy Director, Military Spouse Program
Read more in the January issue of Military Spouse Magazine here!
After serving five years on active duty, I transitioned to the Army Reserve and made my first attempt in the civilian workforce as a veteran and military spouse. My goal was to work in athletics or at a nonprofit, but when I moved from San Antonio to a town with less than 30,000 people in south Texas, the difficulty of finding a job in either field became readily apparent. Three months post transition, I found my first job at the local university.
Three months after that, we moved across the country to Virginia. And as any military spouse knows, those circumstances are not at all unique. With a limited network in my new location, I quickly worked to build connections, first leveraging both my and my husband’s alumni network. Through those networks, many people were willing to set up informational interviews, even though I had only known some of my connections through emails and LinkedIn. It was amazing how willing people were to help—all I had to do was know what kind of help I needed and ask for it.
After four months, I settled with a financial services firm, one with locations near most military installations. While continuing to build my network at our new duty station, I learned about In Gear Career (now Hiring Our Heroes Military Spouse Professional Network). I was intrigued to find out more about its mission to connect career-minded military spouses with each other, building a sense of community and a soft-landing spot following relocation.
As luck would have it, the director happened to live in Virginia where she operated the burgeoning non-profit and hosted local meetings.
The sense of community found within my newfound military spouse network was remarkable. During our time in Virginia, I attended as many networking events and professional development sessions with them as I could.
By the time we left, Hiring Our Heroes, a non-profit operating under the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, absorbed In Gear Career into their Military Spouse Program, resulting in a quick expansion from 13 locations to over 50. After about three years in Virginia, we returned to the same small town in Texas where my story began.
Knowing how small the community was, I knew that building connections there would be crucial. After relocating with my job from Virginia, I started to meet more spouses who were underemployed. When the Military Spouses in the Workplace Study came out, I realized we were far from alone. According to the study, military spouse unemployment is about 16 percent; underemployment is about 70 percent.
Seeing what my network had done for me in Virginia, I worked with two other key spouses to reach out to Hiring Our Heroes and start a Military Spouse Professional Network (MSPN) to serve our area.
Shortly after starting the MSPN in south Texas, I attended volunteer training where I reconnected with my college basketball coach. She too was a military spouse who had reinvented herself many times, most notably from a Division 1 head basketball coach to a senior director at Hiring Our Heroes.
In our conversations, I casually mentioned to her that after four years in finance, I was ready to try a new challenge. Within a few weeks, she reached out to her contacts on my behalf, while also finding a remote position for me on her Hiring Our Heroes team.
In basketball, players are taught to move into “triple threat” whenever they catch the ball. From that position, they are best suited to help their team—either with a pass, dribble, or shot. When I became a military spouse, I used my courtside skills to adapt a similar process in the career space, altering my professional game to include a solid resume, ample networking, and effective use of LinkedIn.
Again I learned how important it is to build relationships—ones where you actively seek to both give and receive. You never know who you might be able to help, and who might help you in the future.
Yes, living in four locations in the last five years created challenges, but it also afforded me the opportunity to build my network. By volunteering, being open to new opportunities, and staying connected I found a career that aligned with my passions and will move with me wherever the Navy takes us next.