Lessons from the MOAA Spouse Symposium

Last week I attended the MOAA Spouse Symposium on careers. The day was full of information, some new, some not, but overall it was a day full of learning.

Photo Courtesy MOAA

Photo Courtesy MOAA

The day started off with a panel discussion about what employers want to know about you. We also heard from Senator Patty Murray, a number of employment experts in various sessions, military spouses that have made their own careers, and policy officials on what states and the country are doing to support military spouses. Here are my top takeaways from the day:Experts on the panels and in the sessions talked a lot about highlighting your transferable skills when applying for jobs. Some of those are skills that military spouses have because of just being married to a service member: making decisions quickly, adaptability, and versatility.

A huge theme of the day was networking, both online and offline. Sometimes you’ll meet someone at a jewelry party. Use LinkedIn connections and groups effectively. Focus your job search on smaller companies that don’t rely solely on an online application process. Talking to a human goes a long way when searching for a job. In fact, most jobs these days are hired through networks. They may not hire the person they know personally, but two or three connections away.

For people that have taken breaks, whether to take care of their family or they moved between places quickly, do explain what you did during that time, don’t shy away from the gap. Skills picked up as a volunteer are great skills, and often can help lead to a job in the future.

You should have two versions of your resume: a generalized one for networking, and a tailored one specifically to where you are applying to work. This is something that I have not done but I really think it’ll help! Add keywords to your resume from the job description as most HR companies now scan resumes for specific keywords using software, and after that people look at the resumes where keywords showed up. Also, include results in your resume, not just what you did but what happened because of what you were doing.

Do a lot of research about companies in the area before applying. This will help you narrow your search and find a company whose culture and values reflect your own. This can also help you focus your search. Reach out for informational interviews and talk to people who have and do work there to get more information.

A great point was made about your wardrobe, and one that I am definitely on board with: updating and expanding your wardrobe is part of the job search aka time to go shopping! So shop smartly and build out your closet for great work attire. One expert said to try and be plain Jane during the interview process, but I have to disagree: standing out in a good way can help–maybe you have a great coat or top (that is work appropriate), wear it! I’ve started interviews about a piece of my outfit (and gotten jobs, not sure if they are directly related, but you don’t have to wear boring clothes).

A great thing mentioned by Chris Pape, founder of Macho Spouse, is don’t forget who you are when you’re applying and looking for jobs. He decided to reinvent his career and take a job when his wife PCS’d but it wasn’t one that made him happy. So stick to you and what you’re passionate about. You’ll be a better employee and happier because of it.

Another military spouse, Missy DiCiro, talked about taking positions, paid and volunteer, that will teach you something new. This will help you gain more of those transferable skills, and possibly lead you down a career path you didn’t know you wanted. For her that was painting, but it could be any number of things for you!

One of my favorite descriptions of looking at your career was said by Karen Golden of MOAA. She said to look at your life and career as a quilt not a straight line or clear path. You’re patching together these great skills and experiences together to make a whole piece or person. And as we know the military often leads us in new directions, so thinking about life in this way really makes sense to me.

While the policy section can get a bit dense, it was full of great information. For instance, some states, including Washington, are passing laws to help military spouses transfer their licenses from one state to another. It varies state to state but some may expedite the process entirely, others will give a temporary license so they can continue to work until they can fill out the required paperwork/tests/etc. Some states include teachers on this! Definitely do your research before moving to see the options. Also, military spouses do qualify for unemployment benefits in many states. If you’re moving you can apply with the state you are leaving. This again varies state to state, so do your research, it may require extra time to fill out paperwork and eventually get that money.

Other fun aspects of the day: resume review and LinkedIn photos. I am looking forward to a new photo for my LinkedIn profile, and was happy that my resume looked pretty good. It definitely needs to be peppered with more results. I was able to network with some new people and hear great speakers. If something like this comes to your area I would definitely suggest checking it out. And everyone in attendance got free Stella & Dot jewelry! I got this cool bracelet:

Stella & Dot braceletHopefully these tips can help some of you too! What struggles have you faced as you’ve moved when it comes to your working life? Any tips for spouses as they search for jobs and keep their career moving forward?

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