Married to the Military: Maintaining a Career as a Tag Along Nomad
Welcome to the second article of a collaborative series between myself, and Kate Kashman of Military.Com. If you're a new military spouse, you're likely in the process of discovering an inconvenient truth. Your career, and the secondary income options it generates, is exercised largely at the whim and convenience of the United States government. Welcome to our world. Looking for ways to minimize the economic impact and keep your job options on track? Read on.
In addition to throwing you into complete discombobulation at home, each and every PCS can put an immediate damper on the current career of the dependent spouse. Current clientèle for your hair dressing business? Gone. That nursing job with the perfect mom's schedule it just took you three years to find? Kiss it goodbye. At a minimum, you'll need a couple of months on each end of the move to process everything, get the move packed up, close up your business, start researching your options on the other end before you land . . . and you'll only have it that easy if you're doing this without children. Add them into the mix and you've got school relocation issues, tutoring along the way, new friend trauma, getting used to a new school and teacher, etc.
Packing up your old life and settling into the new one each take time. Even if you're lucky enough to work right up until the move and happen to find a new position right away, there's a strong likelihood you can kiss the additional income you were earning goodbye. At least for a few months. A couple of ways to minimize this? Diversification of your income sources, active use of your spouse preference benefit, and keeping your resume and reference contacts completely up to date at all times. Unsure of your options? Here's a breakdown of five major categories.
My two cents: This category would include such jobs as teacher, nurse, doctor, therapist, hair dresser, nail tech, massage therapists and others. The more likely people are to need a particular service worldwide, the more likely you are to be able to pick up your career and “put it down again” so to speak at your next location. Of course, this is all dependent on the almighty SOFA. (Status of Forces Agreement) The SOFA is worked out between the government of the host nation and the United States military / government. It addresses many things, including whether or not any jobs resulting from U.S. Military presence will be available to dependent spouses, or be awarded solely to local personnel.
Kate's take: Professional jobs tend to be ones that you have a passion for and would gladly do for free. Which you might have to, if your spouse’s duty location doesn’t present the opportunity for paid employment. Even inside the United States, various state licensing requirements can make trained professionals jump through hoops in order to do their jobs. This is one area where the military is actively trying to institute change, but the change is slow.
The Home Sale / Party Plan Circuit
My observations: On every base, there are usually at least a couple of people participating in these. Cosmetics, baskets, gourmet gadgets, candles, chocolate, cleaning products and home supplies are among the choices you'll have if you decide to go this route. The downside? There's usually an initial cash outlay for inventory. The upside? If you are a large overseas base and nobody else is selling your product, you may be surprised at how willing people are to dish out for products from home that they are unable to purchase in the current host country. My only two cents on this would be that if you think this is something you want to try, consider picking one of the companies that sells a consumable product. There are only so many hand woven baskets any spouse needs to decorate their home. Candles, skin care and vitamins however are all things folks run out of and need to restock. From you.
Kate's input: I’ve done one of these and while I didn’t make much actual cash, it fit my needs at the time. I sold Pampered Chef for a couple of years just after my first child was born. I stocked my kitchen beautifully for very little money, and it got me out of the house and gave my brain a distraction from the all-consuming baby duties.
Two things that I immediately think of when considering the home sales companies: whether the company requires you to maintain a certain level of sales and whether or not you need to carry inventory. For me, the inventory is the big one: I will never sell Creative Memories scrapbooking supplies or Mary Kay cosmetics because, let’s face it, military housing usually doesn’t have a lot of extra storage space. Fortunately, there are lots of products that ship only after orders, and many of them ship directly to the customer. Come to think of it, I’m actually signed up as an agent with a kid’s label company…I might sell a few things a year, but there are no sales minimums and I get a huge discount on my personal orders. I still have hopes that it will take off someday (they truly are great labels) but I just don’t have time to pursue it right now.
Getting Into the Military / Government System
My two cents: Whether it's landing a GS position, snagging an on-base civilian office job, working at the commissary or AAFES, or even getting licensed as a day care provider, joining the system that brought you there (wherever “there” may be) is one way to find employment and add to the overall bottom line of your household. There are even spouse preference protocols to help give you a jump start in some cases.
Kate chimes in: Check with human resources at your spouse’s base or post, and log onto USAJobs.com. Spousal preference guidelines vary by location, but a good FAQ can be found here. There's also a nifty wizard that helps figure out if you are eligible for a spousal preference while in Europe.
My take: There are several options here that pre-internet spouses did not have the same sort of access to. Freelance writer, editor, blogger, transcriptionist and virtual assistant are just a few of the choices you have available to you. Other jobs may be open to the telecommuting option when you PCS if you have been there long enough to earn your supervisor's trust and professional respect.
When we were in Italy, one of the wives obtained an exporter's license and took advantage of our close access to the porcelain factory in the area. They made a number of the porcelain flowers and statuettes that were selling like hotcakes on the internet at the time. Since we were local, she got a huge discount which she passed along to her customers. Her monthly haul? Around ten grand.
Kate sounds off: Did you know that many typical “call center” employees now work out of their homes? There are a couple of big companies that hire customer service representatives to work from their homes. The upside? It doesn’t matter where you live. The downside? You need to have the right equipment, and you’ll need a dedicated space that is kid, pet and spouse free. No one expects to hear a crying baby when they call Sears to order a new lawn-mower. Also, most require you to commit to a certain number of hours each week, and some require that you submit a schedule of when you will be working and when you will not, which doesn’t fit in with the “working while the newborn sleeps” model. Two big virtual call center companies are Working Solutions and Alpine Access.
One definite downside is that many of these jobs require specialized training that costs actual money. Even if there is no cost for the training, it isn’t always paid training. Boo! However, once the training is paid for (and there are military spouse scholarships out there), you are set for a decent job. Curious? Click on over to SpouseBUZZ Talk Radio where the SpouseBUZZ girls interview a representative from TRS Institute, a medical transcription training company, and also interview a recent graduate.
Part Time or Odd Jobs
These can involve anything from house cleaning or baby sitting to temping as a receptionist, data entry person or seamstress. The list is pretty long, and includes any skill set easily transferable to a new location. Grant you, these aren't the highest money making opportunities out there, but are usually options you'll have at most locations. They all bring in at least some cash, and don't require much of a financial outlay to get going.
Does juggling your career options as a tag along nomad take some planning and precision? Absolutely. In fact, no matter what you choose as your overall career path, I personally recommend diversifying part of your income to include an online component. This way, if you are generating some monies from a web site or freelance writing contracts, you can at least keep that financial ball in the air during the moving process. For more money saving tips with a military perspective, don't forget to check out Kate's great blog, the Paycheck Chronicles, over at Military.Com. Got another transitional career tip other military spouses might be able to use? Sound off in the comment section below.