All eyes have been on professional military spouse careers in recent years, with efforts by both the private and public sectors to do their part in supporting employment in the community. It should come as no surprise as survey after survey reveal that those married to the military are accomplished in education and experience, but still face an uphill battle when trying to establish and keep a career in their desired field.
The question remains: how can ambition-driven candidates build a portfolio that defies the inevitable PCS move? Lindsay Bradford, manager of the military spouse program for Hiring Our Heroes, offers some ideas using her own resume as an example.
Bradford, a Navy wife, outlined clear goals for herself long before she added “military spouse” to her resume. She graduated from Arizona State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in justice studies/pre-law and international relations with a focus on national security and terrorism. She positioned herself for a job with one of the three-letter agencies and started an internship with the local police department as a tactical crime analyst.
With large government budget cuts in 2009, Bradford learned just how hard the General Schedule system was to break into and started looking at alternative options. At that point, she didn’t realize just how vital that skill would be to her future.
Reevaluate career goals
With her first career pivot, Bradford started working for Target’s corporate investigations team leading to a headquarters promotion in Minneapolis. It was then that she joined the company’s Military Business Council and met her future husband.
“I was on an incredible team who allowed me to work remotely and travel to see him when he was home. I thought joining this council and being on this particular team was wonderful and would help PCS my career,” she explained.
After becoming engaged, Bradford realized she’d be moving to California and wasn’t phased in the least. “I thought, no problem, if I can oversee Egypt from Minnesota, I can oversee it in California.”
Despite the support of her leadership and advocating for military spouse employment, human resources refused.
By 2013, Bradford found the focus on employment to be limited to veterans with little understanding of the hardships military spouses faced. She was also looking at a career change by this time as she was in the interview process with the FBI. After telling the Bureau about the upcoming move and asking if she could request to be assigned to the San Francisco office, she was met with another closed door.
“I will never forget their response,” she said. “They told me, ‘We will station you on the opposite side of the country to make sure you are committed to the Bureau,’ and I withdrew my application package.”
Target, however, was still an option and Bradford found herself on the retail side of the house working as an executive team leader and district trainer for the assets protection team.
“It felt like starting over, but I was doing whatever it took to keep my career,” she remembered.
Another PCS approached and Bradford was encouraged by the prospect of moving her career. But another door slammed shut, as the only store that could accommodate her position was almost a two hour commute, one way. She left Target and began job hunting.
“I lost count of the job applications around 115,” she said.
Networking is effective
Bradford asked herself, “How was I — a spouse with almost 10 years of specialized experience — not able to even get an interview for an entry-level management position?” It was then that she utilized some of the resources available to military spouses, most notably the Hiring Our Heroes’ Military Spouse Program’s virtual tools, like Career Spark and Facebook groups.
“These connections helped me find the opportunity to begin working as a program manager for the Military Spouse of the Year Program,” she said. And while she was concerned about how she would translate her previous experience into running an award program, she knew she would be able to overcome the odds.
“Using the professional networks, I was able to take a higher look at my career history and realize I was in fact a program manager in all of my roles, it was only the topic that was changing.”
Her story came full circle. She had been keeping an eye on openings with Hiring Our Heroes when an opportunity presented itself. During a networking event, she was connected with Elizabeth O’Brien, senior director of military spouse programs for Hiring Our Heroes, who mentored and guided Bradford to secure her current position.
In reflecting back on her experiences, Bradford says she learned to view her career from the 1,000-foot lens.
“Your career doesn’t have to stay in the same topic or field, but you can continue to progress as a professional based on your skills and utilizing your network to do so,” she said.
Hiring Our Heroes has grown its network to include locations within the U.S. and overseas. The organization also offers AMPLIFY, an exclusive two-day event that leads spouses through intensive career preparation, professional development and networking, according to its website. Attendees leave with an improved resume, professional photos, a polished LinkedIn profile and a professional network of fellow military spouses and employers.Read comments