Needing a Job, Wanting a Career: Turning Job Necessity into Career Clarity

Tara Crooks
Limitless Contributor

By Stacy Swearengen
Military Spouse Guest Writer and founder of Military Spouse Portable Career Planning

Most people experience financial strain at some point or another in their lives. In recent months, I have actually found myself contemplating the financial "what ifs" should my husband fall victim to troop cutbacks.

Conversations with fellow military spouses revealed to me that I'm not alone in such concern. Yet, even prior to news about a meaner, leaner military, I often worried about making ends meet in the time between PCSing and when I found a job in our new area. It therefore came as no surprise to me when, several years ago, I read a RAND study that found three-quarters of military spouses interviewed were employed or seeking work for financial reasons.


In my own experience as a career coach of military spouses, I have found that though financial strain is certainly a factor in why military spouses seek career assistance or employment, most also long for fulfillment, progression and an ability to make a difference. As the wife of an active duty soldier, I also understand the temptation to think that pursuing your own career aspirations outside of the military life is nothing more than a pipe dream. But, if you need to work anyway to support your family, why not find ways to make the most out of it?


Job vs. Career

First and foremost, we need to be clear on the difference between a job and a career. I like to think quite simply as a job being one place of employment and the career as the collective term for a series of jobs (hopefully with progression and some overarching theme/industry). Ultimately, your jobs are going to develop into a career - whether or not it's the one you want is ultimately up to you.


Begin with the End in Mind

Stephen Covey said it best when he asserted we should always, "Begin with the end in mind." Having a clear understanding of what you want your career to be is the first step in creating one. Otherwise, it runs the risk of becoming nothing more than a list of disconnected, unfulfilling jobs.


To develop a better understanding of what you want your career goal to be, consider checking out personality, values and skills assessments - some of which are available for free online. Also, research different industries using


To Find Out Where You are Going, Refer to Where You Have Been

Another way to develop your career is by evaluating your past jobs for themes. Though they may be subtle in nature, there will be at least a few small similarities that unite your experiences, like customer service-oriented positions, helping professions, and organizational experiences. Remember not to discount volunteer experience!


Mind the Gap

Once you have an idea of some industries you might enjoy and themes from past jobs, consider whether you like what has developed thus far. Do you notice progression, or have you allowed your career to take whatever turn comes your way? Do you want something different for yourself? What jobs are available right now that could help you develop in new ways? By answering these questions, you can gauge your present career status in contrast to where you want to be.


I do understand your dream job may not be available at some (perhaps most) duty stations, but that isn't an excuse to take any old job. Stay strategic and remember to keep growing so you are qualified for the day when the job is available to you.