When nurse Razell Perry married into the military in 2013, the last thing she thought she would have to worry about was her own career.
Just a year after marrying Michael Perry, a command sergeant major in the U.S. Army, the couple transferred from their home in Fort Worth, Texas, to Fort Bragg in North Carolina. At the time, Razell had been managing a team of nurses at the time at a local Texas hospital, and she figured it wouldn’t be difficult finding a comparable job after the relocation. But once they got to Fort Bragg, the only jobs coming her way were entry-level positions with low pay — jobs she hoped were long behind her.
“It was depressing, very depressing. I felt like I was taking five steps back,” Razell, 37, tells PEOPLE. “Some of the job offers were things I had done at the start of my nursing career.”
The couple both have children from previous marriages — Razell has three, while Michael has two — and in order to help provide for the family, Razell felt she couldn’t go without bringing home a paycheck for long. With pressure mounting, she took one of the jobs that were offered to her, which came with a $30,000 pay cut compared to her previous position.
“My husband was in the military for 26 years at this point and I just felt like I shouldn’t have to suffer career-wise because he loves what he does,” she explains.
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“I just didn’t understand why it was so difficult for military spouses to continue their career, just because their spouse continues to serve,” she continues, referring to the difficulties that can occur when a soldier and their family are transferred between bases. “It just seemed like at one point Michael would need to retire so I could continue to further my career — it felt like both of us would not be able to enjoy what we were doing.”
After two years, the family once again relocated, this time to Fort Lee in Virginia in June of this year. Once again, Razell had to start her job search over again.
Even though employers were looking for someone with her skillset, Razell found they weren’t able to match the salary she had previously been earning before her pay cut. In fact, by taking the $30,000 cut in compensation in order to quickly provide for her family, employers treated this number as the new starting point in salary negotiations — regardless of whether she was making more before the relocation.
“Since I had taken a pay cut, I felt like it’s always been harder for me, especially when they ask for your salary history — I feel like that’s what they base their rate off of,” she says. “So now I feel like I’m playing catch up.”
It wasn’t until Razell came across the webpage of the Department of Defense’s Spouse Education and Career Opportunities (SECO) program that her luck began to change.
A member from the program told her she could take advantage of a special feature on LinkedIn that let’s military spouses use their premium features free for a year. The SECO member even helped her polish her resume.
“I just had a very basic resume, and I didn’t know what employers were looking for and wondering why I wasn’t getting a callback,” she says. “This just opened the door to another side of what recruiters would be looking for.”
A short time after signing up for the service and getting the resume makeover she didn’t know she needed, Razell started getting more and more interviews — and after feeling her confidence take a hit for so long, she finally felt her confidence was coming back.
“It felt great. I felt hopeful, I was very hopeful that I wouldn’t have to take something lower, and would still be able to grow,” she says. “Every time we move I didn’t want to start at the entry level. I feel like I have too much in education to go somewhere and have to always start at the entry level in a company.”
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Now, Razell is fortunate enough to have two job offers with salaries that better match her skill level — now she just has to choose which one!
For other military spouses having difficulties in their careers, Razell’s advice is to stay proactive.
“If their goal is to be a career woman like myself, I would say just to be proactive about just continuing your education and keeping your skills updated,” she says, “because there are so many resources for military spouses, but it’s not always going to just fall into your lap — look out for them, do your research and ask.”
The SECO website and Military Spouse Preference Program are both good places to start for military spouses looking for guidance.
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