For those of you planning a move to Okinawa soon, we hope Marie’s descriptions of the process of their travel and first months of settling in can help you with a few of the “unknowns.”  To read more of their story see links at the bottom of the post.

CONTRIBUTED BY MARIE LEWIS

I’m sure I wasn’t the first spouse to feel that joining my husband on a three-year tour in Okinawa was a wonderful opportunity to experience a new way of life — but a potentially devastating blow to my career. I had worked in a cut-throat field of journalism and been warned that once I left the TV news business, I might never be able to fight my way back into the industry. I thought it was my dream…or was it? Was I going to forever lament the fact that God (and Uncle Sam) had other plans? In a word, no. If I was going to make a life with Kenny in Japan, I was going to pull out all the stops to make it the best one possible. My personal checklist included finding gainful employment.

I did what I normally don’t do — I sought out help. My first meeting with a woman who would have a dramatic impact on my job search came during the Newcomers Orientation on Camp Foster. Her name was Pat Beckles, and she represented the Family Member Employment Assistance Program, or FMEAP. Ms. Beckles explained to me how the military spouse preference works and advised me to be selective in applying for jobs, as I would only be allowed to use my spouse preference once. She gave me a pamphlet of information on upcoming workshops for job seekers. I glanced through it, not sure where to begin.

Newlywed MFP
Newlywed MFP
Newlywed Resume
Newlywed Resume

A couple of days later I saw an announcement for a GS position on usajobs.gov that I thought would fit my skill set well. I decided I wanted to apply, and went to the FMEAP office (2nd floor of the Marine and Family Programs building on Camp Foster) hoping someone would be able to review my resume and recommend a few tweaks. What an understatement. Ms. Beckles encouraged me to sit in on a resume writing workshop that was just beginning that morning. I reluctantly agreed, only because I had no place else to go. I thought my resume was impressive enough — after all, I’d been hired in the States with the resume/interview lessons I’d learned in college. But I knew it couldn’t hurt to hear them out, so I ducked into the session that was being taught by Tracey Walker. I found a seat near the back.

The next two and a half hours were full of valuable information, some of which I knew, but most of which was new to me. The biggest shocker? The federal resume can be up to eight pages long. Eight pages?! Who’s going to read all that, I thought. At that point I realized my resume needed an overhaul, not merely a few tweaks. At the end of class I told Ms. Walker I was interested in a GS position, and afterwards she e-mailed me the specific format for that type of application.

I started a brand new resume tailored for the job I wanted, going through my old resume line by line to re-format the pages and incorporate the language used in the job announcement. I spent a few hours doing this, and when finished I e-mailed my now five-page resume to Ms. Beckles, who had promised to review it before I submitted my application package. She sent me back notes explaining that I needed to further edit my wording to mirror the language in the job announcement. I appreciated the time she was taking to help me, and I listened to her advice. We sent a few more drafts back and forth before I felt confident it was ready to go.

Newlywed Resume 2
Newlywed Resume 2

Next, I headed back to FMEAP to submit all of my documentation online (Kenny and I were in the process of moving into our tower apartment on the day this was happening, so we had no internet access at home.) There were a total of seven documents in addition to my resume that needed to be included in my application. These included our orders and area clearance, along with a statement of eligibility for federal employment. I also submitted a written request to my college for official transcript copies. (Luckily, my school doesn’t charge for this.) Filling out the paperwork was not too time-consuming, but submitting it was. After scanning everything into PDF files, I was unable to upload all of the documents to the job site because of their size. Ms. Beckles and Lorra Baldes, another FMEAP staffer, helped me find out where I could fax the forms instead. This took several attempts because it was an international number and I wasn’t getting confirmation that the fax had gone through properly. There was one moment during this day-long process that I broke down. I was thinking about Kenny lost in a sea of boxes while I was fighting with a fax machine, and suddenly I burst into tears. It sounds ridiculous, I know. MUCH worse things can happen. But at the time, I was overwhelmed and afraid all of my work would go down the tubes if I didn’t submit my application before the deadline.

I really had no reason to panic. Ms. Beckles helped me confirm that the faxes were all received, and that my application was properly submitted. What’s more, she didn’t scoff at my tears. Everyone in the office empathized with me; they understood how frustrating the process can be, and that helped me feel much less ridiculous. Finally assured that my resume would be reviewed by the employer, I went home to help Kenny unpack.

Two weeks later, I received a phone call to interview for the job. Kenny had predicted it. I, the eternal cynic (or realist, as I prefer to be called) had assumed the position had already been filled by someone else. I literally jumped off of our loaner furniture and tried not to sound too giddy as I confirmed my interview time. Then I made a bee-line for FMEAP to prepare myself. The staff all congratulated me on securing an interview, and Ms. Baldes sat down with me to ask me some practice interview questions and review the do’s and don’ts of interviewing. Even though I knew the basics, I felt more self-assured having rehearsed my “30 second commercial” in front of another person who could give me objective feedback. It paid off.

I was interviewed by a panel of four people, and offered the job two days later. I had to pinch myself. I came here worried that I might not be working at all, and found a job better than I could have imagined. I just started this past week as a communications specialist and administrative support assistant for DoDDS. I have quite a learning curve ahead of me, but so far I am thoroughly enjoying it. I have the ladies of FMEAP to thank for helping me put by best foot forward, and I have nothing but respect for the job they do.

Newlywed JOB
Newlywed JOB

I’d like to end with a note of encouragement: it is possible to get a job here. Before we arrived I heard mostly negative things about finding a job in Okinawa, but you really never know until you try. I am a pretty stubborn person and I think that helped me be persistent even when I wasn’t sure I had much of a chance. Timing also played a major role, and I was purely lucky in that respect. The best advice I can give is to be selective in applying, as Ms. Beckles told me; make sure it’s something you could enjoy so you don’t waste your spouse preference on a job that makes you dread going to work. Also, be diligent. I made my job search a higher priority than unpacking. Kenny was understanding enough to know that I didn’t want to fall into a routine of staying home every day and become complacent. (That’s not to say I have anything against choosing not to work outside the home. If you are doing what makes you happy, more power to you!) I feel extremely blessed and grateful for the army of angels in the FMEAP office. If you haven’t already, I’d recommend taking advantage of the amazing (and FREE) services they offer!


Read all the posts in this series: Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 79, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14

18 COMMENTS

  1. My husband and I are new on island, young, and newlywed. I just read your whole series in one sitting, and I laughed seeing the parallels in our experiences. I’m still looking for a job, but your article made me think twice about what I want to do. I was unaware the spousal preference was limited to one use, and now that I am, choosing a job more carefully seems to be top priority now. Thank you!

  2. I have been very disappointed with getting a job here. People have constantly treated me rudely, and there is massive competition for jobs, your story is like a 1 in a million lottery success story. You were lucky and got a lot of help from some nice people.

    I have years of cash handling and manager experience, but after so many rejections I’m just burned out. I have a low paying job teaching English, but that’s it. It really sucks since I need the money for college.

    I might follow your advice though and talk to the FMEAP, maybe a little extra perseverance can go a long way.

  3. Hey Marie,
    I will be headed to Okinawa in less than 2 weeks. I have stumbled on your adventures and am quite grateful for your articles.
    My circumstances are slightly different, in that I have three school age children. However, the job thing is a priority for me as well. I am a passionate and dedicated teacher terrified of not being able to do what I love most. I have sent my application to DoDDs by the deadline, but realize I will arrive only 1 month before school begins. I have resigned to the fact I will not have a classroom of my own, but I am hopeful I will be able to substitute and still see the lightbulb moments to which I am so addicted.
    Your article has definitely renewed my hope and has certainly re-amped my attitude. Thank you for your perpetual positive energy and humbly honest tales. They make this blind adventure, much less terrifying.
    I look forward to your future adventures. 🙂

  4. Marie,
    I have really enjoyed reading your posts. I met you during one of the layovers on our trip to Okinawa, and ran into you again in the FMEAP office while meeting with Pat a couple of weeks after we arrived. I just read all of your posts for the first time this evening and it brought on a plethora of emotions. It was so refreshing to read that our experiences so far have been so similar to yours. We are now also settled in a 2 bedroom tower apartment on Foster (we had the option of a multiplex too). We are loving Okinawa so far. I got offered a job with MCCS last week and I am currently completing the inprocessing. The last couple of months have been an emotional roller coaster and I couldn’t have read your posts at a better time. They made the memories of our recent move seem “normal”. Congratulations on your new job. I look forward to reading more of your posts in the future. 😀
    Shelley

    • I just now saw your comment Shelley! I remember bumping into you – I’m so glad it worked out for you too. Congrats 🙂

  5. Thanks for an informative blog on your PCS. We will be arriving in Okinawa next month and have found your tips very helpful. Congratulations on your job! I also hope to work and will use some of your advice for my job search. Thanks again.

  6. Jobseekers: The ladies at the Personal Services Center asked me to pass along to you info about an online career fair you might find helpful:
    Milicruit Online Career Fairs- 24/7/365 Virtual Career Fair environment- Research, apply, email or chat with companies nationwide from were ever you are. Recruiters will be available for live chats on June 26th from 1-4.

    Date: June 26th
    Time: 1-4 ET
    Where: http://www.hireveterans.com/

  7. That is great that you had such a wonderful experience. Congratulations on the job!! We have been here since February and I just had the most terrible, unprofessional, and upsetting experience with securing a job with MCCS and have lost all desire or energy to try to find a job again. It is great to see such a positive story… because it seems like there are not a lot out there. After this debacle with MCCS HRO I am at a loss of what to do but your story has inspired me to visit the FMEAP office on Monday.

    • Amber, I’m very sorry to hear you had such an unpleasant experience. I think FMEAP would be a good place to start; they can probably give you much better advice than I can and they truly do care. But feel free to contact me if you need to vent or want some suggestions.

  8. Rosi, best of luck to you and don’t give up! Life hasn’t gone as planned for me but it has all worked out for the best. Remember you can’t always control your circumstances, but you can always control your attitude. I’ve learned that’s half the battle. Thank you all for your kind thoughts; I will continue to keep writing as often as possible.

  9. Marie,

    Your article almost made me cry. You are so blessed to have found a job so quickly! I’ve been trying to find a job as a nurse, but as a new graduate it seems harder. I am in the process to start volunteering at the hospital, so I am keeping my fingers crossed so that I don’t have to do it for a very long time. Although I am really looking forward to it! I want to be able to find a job as soon as possible.

    Regards,

    Rosi

    • Rosi,

      Look at contract positions. I know the Naval Hospital is looking for contract nurse positions. Contact me and I can give you some ideas on how to get your foot in the door.

      Kris

    • Hey Rosi,
      I am a new graduate nurse as well. I sympathize with you on how tough it is to find a nursing job. I have been searching for over a year since graduation. Well, I will be arriving in Okinawa soon. We should meet up and talk about our experiences. Hopefully help each other out.

  10. My wife and I are just about to complete our first year here, so reading your series has been very enjoyable to see that we are not the only ones with the anxiety of moving to Okinawa and all the headaches that go with it. (Just completed JCI for the first time today). I hope you continue your writing on this site even though have employment, but if not. Best Wishes.

  11. Very thorough article, and encouraging. My wife and I just completed our second tour here. Most folks thought we were crazy, but, we really looked at it all like it was a matter of attitude.

  12. That’s amazing you found a job so fast! I know that that’s not the case for most people though. It took me 3 months to find my job, and I know many people have waited longer. I was discouraged by the jobs on usajobs.gov, Kadena, and MCCS. Most of the jobs required a lot of experince, or required barely a high school diploma. Since I was newly graduated, I didn’t want to settle for a job that didn’t require a degree. I finally found my job after a friend tipped me off to a position through a Contractor. For people out there looking for jobs, don’t give up!

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here