The new year is a perfect time to start fresh. You likely conjure images of workouts and leafy green vegetables when you think of New Year’s resolutions, but this is also an ideal time to reevaluate your career path. With 24% of military spouses experiencing unemployment, nearly 6 times the rate of their civilian counterparts, and 63% reporting underemployment,1 career exploration can be vital to finding balance and value in the workplace.
Here are six ways to explore new career paths in the New Year:
1. Begin With the End in Mind
As we wrap up one year and begin another, we tend to reflect on the past 12 months. This year, be even more intentional as you turn your attention to your career. Ask yourself the following questions:
- What aspects of your job have brought you the most joy?
- What challenged you in a healthy and meaningful way?
- What areas of your job left you feeling drained and unfulfilled?
- If you weren’t working this past year, what do you envision for your future?
- What is your ideal work environment?
- What are your passions?
You may find it helpful to write out your responses.
Once you have the answers, consider common themes and look for anything that stands out as an area of interest. Pay particular attention to those items that leave you feeling drained, too, as this can help you identify future friction points.
Next, close your eyes and envision a career or setting that amplifies your strengths, supports your interests, and values your contributions. What does that look like? What does it feel like? Are you working alone or on a team? This simple exercise can help you picture your optimal career self.
Now that you know what you want your future career to look and feel like, ask yourself what career paths align with your vision. Beginning with this end state in mind will help you to narrow down careers and positions that fit within your desired perimeters.
2. Research Career Opportunities
Whether you know exactly what field you want to enter or you just want to explore a variety of options, research can help you narrow it down, as well as help you set salary targets. The U.S. Department of Labor’s curated list of employment resources for military spouses provides one-stop access to many military spouse job resources.
Military spouses can explore programs like Hiring Our Heroes, which connects the military community to businesses, and USO Pathfinder Transition Program, a free service that helps military families create successful career plans, among many other resources. Their information hub can help jump-start your research as you begin planning for your career and thinking about your resume.
3. Update Your Resume
Utilizing your research and prior work experience as a foundation, create a targeted resume that details the knowledge and skills you bring to your new occupation. Further customize your resume for each position you apply for, incorporating keywords from the position description to enhance your odds of moving to the interview stage. With many companies now using resume screening tools and software to help filter out the most qualified candidates, keywords play an even larger role in your advancement through the hiring funnel.
Consider visiting the employment office at your military installation for any military spouse job search needs, including assistance in drafting or editing your resume for optimal performance. My local office helped me view my resume in a whole new light, bringing it up-to-date and keyword ready. Many offices also offer career coaching and mock interviews, rounding out the tools you need to be successful.
4. Contribute and Connect
Once you know where you want to focus your energy for your job search and your resume is drafted, you’ll want to find ways to connect with your new community. LinkedIn is a great place to grow your network and contribute to the conversation within your new field. Utilize the free version anytime, or upgrade to LinkedIn Premium for free with their military spouse subscription. They offer a one-time 12-month upgrade, as well as an additional free one-year subscription for military spouses who have experienced a PCS or separation from the military within the last 6 months.
LinkedIn provides both a centralized location to search for jobs and an online community. Utilize your resume to build out your profile and begin connecting. Add colleagues and supervisors to your network. Aim to connect with individuals you know in a professional setting and those who work in your desired career. Add value by posting articles relevant to your new occupation or commenting on articles others have posted.
And, most importantly, share your progress! Shout out your successes and your accomplishments on LinkedIn to demonstrate your professional accolades and continued growth. Don’t be shy! While it can be difficult to toot your own horn in most situations, sharing here can help grow your network and increase your visibility across the platform.
It also provides future employers with a better look at your skillset and abilities. I recently completed a social media marketing certificate through the Blue Star Families Spouseforce program and posted my certificate completion on LinkedIn. You never know what doors may open as a result of your post!
5. Start Small
You don’t have to quit your day job to explore new career paths, nor do you have to jump straight into a full-time position. It’s okay to start small. Look for opportunities to gain skills and work experience, whether in paid or volunteer positions. Dabble in your new field to determine if it’s a good fit. Find employers who are willing to bet on your tenacity and will help to train you along the way.
You don’t have to quit your day job to explore new career paths, nor do you have to jump straight into a full-time position. It’s okay to start small.
Through opportunities like the Armed Services YMCA (ASYMCA) Military Spouse Writing Program, you can gain paid, hands-on experience in a new field. As one of their writers, I’m actively building my portfolio of work, learning how to write for digital platforms, networking, and building professional references all in a real-life setting. Search for ways to grow the skills you need to thrive in your new career.
6. Set Yourself Up for Success
With the uncertainty of military family life, good planning can make all the difference between success and failure. Create a schedule that works for your family and your needs. Identify barriers such as lack of childcare and strategize ways to overcome these potential roadblocks. Set appropriate professional boundaries, allowing you to be your best at work and home.
For me, this looks like ending my work by a certain time each day and silencing work notifications on my phone. For you, this may mean acknowledging a child or pet running through your Zoom background (life happens!) or it may mean leaving your work email, Slack, Teams, etc. off of your phone altogether. Experiment with what works for you!
Find Support through the ASYMCA
The Armed Services YMCA enhances the lives of military members and their families through programs relevant to the unique challenges of military life, including career advancement. While military spouse and unemployment may be words you often see linked, a network of support can help you forge a new path. Find an ASYMCA location near you to learn more about the programs and services that can foster your career journey.