portable career

Portable Careers and Military Spouses, a Match Made in Heaven

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by Rebecca Alwine

Gone are the days when military spouses were encouraged to find ‘easily transferrable jobs’ in nursing and education. With the increased availability in technology and interest in the desirable skills military spouses have, there is no reason to let a thing like distance stop you from pursuing your dream job and career.

We’ve all heard of those military spouses who are able to take their job with them all over the world. Sometimes we’re in awe of their successes and other times we don’t envy the way they have to get up way early for a conference call, worry about child care, or have to miss a fun event due to a business trip. Without a doubt, full-time employment can be a challenge as military spouse, but there are so many options regarding employment that everyone who wants to pursue a career certainly can. These real-life success stories offer a look inside the professional lives of some military spouses, as well as some organizations that are designed to help spouses with employment.

Real Life Spouses

The 2014 Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year and Marine Corps spouse Lakesha Cole, has moved half a dozen times, including an overseas assignment in Okinawa, Japan. Ironically, that’s when she switched from part-time to full-time employer with She Swank Too, her children’s apparel boutique, started with the intent to create goodwill in whatever community she was a part of at that point.

Lakesha Cole

Cole admits there is nothing easy about moving a business. “Relocating your business is even worse [than moving your household and family] because of the downtime and loss of customers and income,” she explained. “But take advantage of the move: welcome new experiences, meet new people, and create a business that’s even more successful than before.

Tracey Greene, an Army spouse who has moved twice since beginning her career with Younique, a popular direct sales makeup company with a mission to empower women worldwide. “I work my business primarily from Facebook; since my iPhone goes everywhere it’s a very simple transition when we PCS. Moving also provides a new network of people for me to meet and share our opportunity with,” Greene said.

Tracey GreeneTaking things one day at a time is Greene’smantra, and while her focus is and has always been being a wife and mom first she really enjoys the way her business allows her to focus on herself as well. When talking to other spouses about finding or making a career portable, Greene advises to think outside the box. She knows networking marketing doesn’t fit the traditional career path, but it is incredibly flexible, which fits the military spouse lifestyle. “Not only are you your own boss, but you decide where you take it. Whether that’s providing a six figure income or helping others realize their worth. The opportunities are endless!”

The hardest part about transition is leaving people behind, “Even though the transition is typically an easy one, it is hard to move away from my teammates,” Greene says. “I now lead a team of more than 2,500 women all over the country. I would love to have more of them nearby to offer local meetings and trainings.”

“I’ve been talking to my bosses about working remotely for the last three years,” she explained. “They were always aware that moving was on the horizon…” — Navy spouse Elizabeth Shaw

Sharing a slightly different experience, Navy spouse Elizabeth Shaw has transformed her traditional office job into a portable career, in order to move with her husband. As the manager of Federal Grassroots Development at American College of Cardiology, Shaw will be continuing her job remotely when the couple moves this year.

“I’ve been talking to my bosses about working remotely for the last three years,” she explained. “They were always aware that moving was on the horizon and we wanted to find a way to make it work, on both sides.” The non-profit currently has about 25 percent of its employees working remotely, so Shaw didn’t have to recreate the wheel too much.

Shaw encourages spouses in similar positions to build a relationship with their supervisor first. “Don’t go in on the first day and start talking about working remotely,” she advised. “Once they see your hard work and the value you add to the organization, they aren’t going to want to lose you.

Help from the Other Side

— Navy spouse Elizabeth Shaw

military spouses

Military spouses Erica McMannes and Liza Rodewald epitomize the portable career aspect. Together, from two different places, they launched MadSkills, a company designed to pair up military spouses with remote jobs in their field. They are constantly offering advice for military spouses looking for careers.

“We suggest choosing a career based on three things: passion, portability, and potential,” they say. If you’re passionate about a career, you can maintain it, especially while being married to a service member. “Being able to take your career with you when you PCS is priceless. Especially when thinking about maintaining your income through the move.”

When facing a move with an already established career, there are several options, they say. “Know your expertise and how you can translate it into ways you can get paid for and build on,” suggests the pair at MadSkills. “Be open to new clients, new experiences, and new lessons. A portable career has to be a flexible one.”

Traditionally, when people think of portable careers, they think of just picking up and starting over again. However, that sounds a lot easier than it actually is! “If you have a computer, strong Wi-Fi, and some expertise — you can be portable. Certain skills make it easier than others, but there is something for everyone.” This dynamic duo has made it work, and has helped many other military spouses further their careers in the process.

hiding our heroes

Hiring Our Heroes — In Gear Career also is designed to help military spouses find jobs at the local level. “In each of the 30 chapters around the world, our hope is to provide a community of like-minded spouses and to facilitate networking connections,” said Amanda Crowe, the Global Program Manager. Recently, In Gear Career became a permanent part of Hiring our Heroes and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, and have been able to open doors for even more military spouses.

There are a few ways to create a portable career, including becoming your own advocate, Crowe says. “Start by thinking of ways to take your current responsibilities to your next duty station and then talk to your employer about how that would work,” she suggests. “Consider everything when preparing your proposal, including working hours, time zones, cost-saving over training someone new, etc.”

“Just as there are careers that are easier to transport than others, there are some careers that will present unique challenges when trying to make them portable. Working for a local small business may be difficult from a distance, but if you can think creatively and present your employer with options, anything is possible!” says Crowe.