Military Spouse Employment: It's Not About Who You Know

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Consistently finding employment is just one of many lifestyle challenges military spouses face. With frequent moves, the seemingly endless search to not only land a career, but to maintain and grow it, can be frustrating.

In the job search, the advice "it's all about who you know" is often tossed around as the secret key to landing a dream job. That somehow, if only you could find the right person with the golden ticket, all of your employment wishes would come true. Granted, sometimes that does happen, but there's actually a second part of the equation that is rarely mentioned.

It's not who you know, it's who knows you.

Sound like the same thing? Not quite.

In a former life, I worked as a defense contractor in Washington, D.C. for a large consulting firm. One of the first questions I was consistently asked within the firm was, "What's your personal brand?" Initially, I absentmindedly ran my fingers over my suit jacket lapel and fought the urge to answer, "Um, Calvin Klein?" I had zero idea what people were asking me. One zealous manager in particular pulled me aside and explained it in two simple questions: "What are you known for? What do you excel in?"

He elaborated a bit further: When someone hears your name, can they associate you with a particular specialty?

I humbly realized the answer was probably "no." Outside of a hiring interview, I hadn't developed the ability to sell my skill sets well, nor could I succinctly say what I wanted to do within my career. In this particular company, as new projects would open, managers within the firm would assign teams of consultants to various projects.

I quickly learned that when project managers were actively matching employees to contracts, hallway conversations and chance meetings by the elevator centered on, "Do I know anyone or know someone who might have someone that fits this project's job description?"

In other words, who popped to mind? And that's the key difference.

In moving to a new location within your current career field, or even when trying to make the jump into a different career, ask yourself the question: Who knows me? If no one does, here are eight ways to make it happen.

Develop an elevator pitch

This is one of the first and best things you can do for yourself. It's worth investing the time to perfect your pitch, so when an opportunity comes you are ready to grab it. Develop the ability to sell yourself, your skill sets, and what you want in a succinct but engaging manner.

Forbes offers the following tips on how to perfect your elevator pitch:

  • Who are you?
  • What do you do?
  • What are you looking for?

Build a polished presence, both in-person and online

Nailing down your elevator pitch can go a long way in helping you develop a polished presence, particularly online. If you can mentally capture what it is you want to do, you can begin to tailor an online presence around that goal.

If you don't yet have a social media presence, create one -- and if you do, take the time to review and edit it because first impressions online are just as important as in-person ones, whether that's via LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or Pinterest. Google yourself. What comes up? Additionally, if possible, have samples of your work available online.

Start carrying business cards with you every time you leave the house. Your cards can be beautifully simple: Your name, email, website, and a short professional title. Ensure your email address is professional (i.e., not Yes, unfortunately that is an actual email address someone gave in a hiring interview.).

Tap into your existing contacts

Once you can quickly pitch yourself and have created a media presence to refer people to if asked, it's time to scrub your contact list. Does anyone have connections to your new location or within your career field? It might be possible for someone create a bridge for you and make an introduction.

Research and join professional organizations

Many professions have national organizations you can join, but don't forget to look for local chapters and associations, too. Try checking the local Chamber of Commerce for organization leads as many businesses are quite actively advocating within local circles. Often there are also active and very specific Facebook groups for your area. Follow those leads to get your name out there.

Get to know the key professionals and current events in your field

In virtually every industry, there are people who have established themselves as key players. Even better, they usually like to share what they are up to, which gives you an in-road to get connected.

Go to the events they go to. Develop online relationships with mentors and titans. Like something they've worked on? Reach out and let them know. Researching your industry and being aware of current events within will also work to establish your credibility once you do start connecting with more people in your industry.

No prospects in sight or making a career jump? Brainstorm ways to contribute to the community as a volunteer, particularly if you are making a career jump. Organizations and agencies love volunteers and this could be a fantastic way to get your foot in the door and prove yourself.

Make the ask

Once you identify a potential lead, group, or even new connections within your network, be prepared to ask for exactly what you want. This can be hard to do, sometimes it may internally seem too forward or direct and feel as if you are putting someone on the spot. But all it takes is one yes!

End with a follow-up

Remember, the goal is to have someone think of you when an opportunity presents itself, so openly invite them to follow up with you if they hear of something. Leave your business card or provide your contact information in online correspondence.

As military spouses, we certainly face more than our fair share of challenges when it comes to snagging a great job and maintaining our careers. Let's bring all of the networks and people we can into our corner to make sure we're the first ones that pop to mind when those awesome opportunities arise!

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