One thing many military spouses are good at is making friends wherever they go. With each new duty station we start at square one. We join Facebook groups, attend playdate and exercise groups, and meet strangers for coffee. If we are good at anything it’s putting ourselves out there. We have to in order to survive this crazy life, otherwise we find ourselves sulking in loneliness while our service members are not around.
Although this process can be exhausting, especially when done every few years, it is a wholly positive thing. Meeting new people brings about new friendships, new experiences, and new outlooks on a variety of topics. But for those of us looking beyond the military service, it also brings about another benefit- networking.
Why Networking is Important for the Military Spouse
As you meet more and more people at each new duty station, the web of your reach to others grows and grows. Networking allows you not only to connect to others who are in a similar lifestyle situation, but it also allows you to learn of opportunities that you might otherwise not know. Those opportunities are not only career-based but they can also be volunteer, personal interest, or military organization based.
Even if your spouse is a career service member, it is important to remember that service ends at some point. At some point your spouse is going to retire or something unexpected may happen that causes them to leave active duty. Unless they are on the fast-track to being a cabinet member of the White House, more than likely they will be looking at a second career outside of the military. In turn, you will also be exploring options in your career progression. If you have been a stay-at-home parent, you may look to go back to work. If you have been working, you may look to change your career path now that you are staying in one place for more than 5 seconds. Even if you have maintained the same career throughout your spouse’s military career opportunities can open up when you know you are going to be living in the same city for the foreseeable future.
As a military spouse you have an undeniable advantage compared to our civilian counterparts. You are able to meet new people every few years therefore making new connections and opening new doors for opportunity- if not now, in the future. It is smart for any military spouse to take this hand and play it at every chance.
How to Network Like a Boss
Networking is easier than it seems. In fact, in the age of social media it is easier than ever. No longer do you have to attend FRG meetings, spouse socials, or monthly coffee meetings. Now you are able to join a Facebook group (or several) to get your feet wet at each new duty station. But networking is more than just sitting behind a screen. Face to face contact is still the best way to get out there, meet people, and learn of opportunities. Below are some ways to network like a boss.
- Facebook- Each duty station has a Facebook group for spouses. Many times there are several groups, broken down by different categories, for each duty station. Join them. Introduce yourself. Start chatting. Answer questions. Ask people if they want to meet up for playdates, coffee, or wine.
- Talk about yourself- It seems narcissistic, but the only way you will find out opportunities that are of interest to you is to tell people what you’re interested in. Do you love fitness? Talk about it. Do you love to write? Tell people. Were you a nurse in a previous life? Brag about that one time you save someone’s life. Others won’t know to suggest that awesome new job that fits every single one of your dreams and desires if you don’t tell them about it.
- Put yourself out there- This can be a tough one for those with some level of social anxiety, but if you can muster the courage you should try to get yourself physically in front of other people. Attend unit meetings or social events. Even if you go with your spouse the first few times, that’s ok- some crazy spouse will inevitably recognize you, start talking to you, and invite you over to her house for a playdate. If that happens, GO. Every interaction will make you more comfortable with future interactions.
- Organize events- If you are more of the outgoing type, organizing social events- playdates, group workouts, coffee, unit spouse events- can get your name out there fast. If you like to have familiar faces around, like your spouse, organize a BBQ with a few of their work friends. People will recognize you as a leader from the get-go, which is fantastic if you are looking to network for career purposes. If anything is true it is that military spouses like to get together and chat about military life- so take advantage!
- Networking Sites- If you don’t have an account with sites like LinkedIn, get one! These are wonderful networking tools that help you expand your reach beyond your inner circle. It also helps you to know that Jenny from the playdate you attended last week is also a volunteer at the SPCA and has worked in finance. More doors may open with the more you know about other’s professional careers, and vice versa.
Networking can seem like a daunting task at first. Meeting new people can be nerve-racking, and having to do it every few years can be tiring. But one day, even if that day is in the very distant future, you will be looking for new opportunities. The kids will be out of the house and you will be living in the same house for more than 3 years. If you start networking now, at a time when you’re meeting new people all the time, you be able to dig into those connections to find the career or volunteer opportunity that is perfect for you.