Most military spouse professionals face unique challenges when working to sustain their professional careers, as the ability to work is altered by the transient nature of the military lifestyle. I’ve compiled a few questions and answers from various interviews and dialogue with fellow military spouse professionals to assist others who may have similar questions relating to their own career challenges.
“I’m a recent Criminal Justice graduate. I went through the Military Spouse Preference registration on base, have been job searching in the local surrounding communities, and I am still having a very difficult time finding work!”
Continue to network! Join clubs, the Chamber may have a Rising Professionals group that’s pretty inexpensive to join, volunteer within your field. It’s all about who you know, so connect with more people and your chances will increase! Pick up this book on base if it’s there: What Color Is My Parachute 2012 Edition. This book rocks! You’ll learn so much and it’s a fun and easy read. Mr. Bolles sure knows how to tell it how it is. HIGHLY RECOMMEND!
Make an appointment with a Spouse Employment Coordinator at your local military family center. Request to be placed on their employment distribution list so that you can be notified of job vacancies, career-related classes, and hiring events geared toward military families.
Use your student Career Services department. Most colleges and universities have free services available to assist graduates with career planning and developing job and internship search strategies. If your school has an alumni program, I highly recommend joining, as your alumni network is a valuable tool for networking, asking questions, and getting some exposure.
Seek volunteer opportunities. Keep your resume current by volunteering in a field related to your degree program. Reflect on what you want to do with that degree. Remember that professional volunteer work IS considered WORK and should not be discounted when marketing yourself to potential employers – focus on the tangibles you have to offer (inherent abilities and technical competencies) and your professional accomplishments, paid or not.
Join LinkedIn Networking Groups. Start with your alumni group! Alumni tend to want to help others from their alma mater. Then start searching for industries and companies of interest. Ask questions and answer questions. This is your chance to demonstrate your subject matter expertise as well as understand what is going on within those industries. Ensure your LinkedIn profile is clean, creative, and professional. Avoid listing “Military Spouse” as a professional position!
“What do you think are some of the best traits of military spouse professionals (and military spouses in general)?”
In my experience, not only as a military spouse, but as a hiring manager and a recruiter working within a military community, I have found that MOST military spouse job candidates communicate and follow up very well, are tech savvy, demonstrate proven adaptability and resilience, respect structure and guidelines, and are efficient and effective under pressure/duress. Military spouses are placed in positions where we are forced to adapt and MAKE things work for the family so the military member can focus on his/her job, providing for his/her country. We do the same for private industry employers – make their job easier so they can focus on the corporate mission. It eventually comes natural to the military spouse.
Here are some stats I pulled from a 2009 survey: 84% of military spouses have some college education, 77% are career-driven, and 25% have at least a four-year degree.
Milspouses are forced into cultural immersion – corporate, family, deployment, PCS moves, etc. We ‘train’ to successfully adapt.
“My husband is undergoing a PCS move this fall. What do you tell an employer when they ask why you are relocating? I don’t feel comfortable mentioning I’m married and saying I moved for his job. I work for a leading company in my field and wouldn’t be able to get an equivalent job, so it’s not like I can claim I’m moving to advance my career. Your thoughts?”
This is always a tough one. I typically advise the employer that my spouse’s employer moved us. If they ask what he does, I tell them “communications”, which is true. As a hiring manager, I used to ask this question frequently as it was an integral part of the interview process. If the employer continues to focus on the reasons you are relocating instead of the value your experience and skills can bring to the position, then you may want to reconsider your candidacy. Employers ask this question to gauge risk, especially if they are looking to fill the position with someone for at least five years. This actually happened to me. The hiring manager indicated that she wanted to fill the position with someone for at least three years. Well, we all know how the military works and nothing is definite EVEN IF orders indicate a time frame on the assignment, it could be extended or cut short at any time. Yes, PCS orders came about a year and a half into my acceptance of the position, but I walked away leaving them with brand new solutions, new avenues of business, and a record low employee turnover within the department. Not too shabby.
Many spouse professionals suggest being straightforward with the employer, HOWEVER, if I had been 100% honest with my hiring manager/recruiter on my military spouse status (without lying, just leaving out specific spouse career details), I would not have been offered the position. How do I know this? When my director found out about six months into the position, she was surprised and THEN asked all of her questions… “So how long are you going to be here? When do you expect to leave?” and so on. Because I had made such a difference and worked to make her job easier with me coming in, it was not as important as it would have been if I volunteered the information during my interview.
If you think of it, in most cases, a civilian job candidate’s spouse’s career/job should not play a role in the interview process, so why should it for a military spouse? Unfortunately it does and there’s no REAL way to avoid it unless you happen to identify a military friendly employer or get an internal referral by a fellow military spouse/friend for a position that welcomes the military lifestyle.
Back to your question…. what’s the reason you provide when you are relocating? It can vary based on your career interests. If you’re comfortable advising that your husband’s work brought you to the area, then that is appropriate. If the employer straight up asks if he is military, that can get a bit tricky AND I would probably reconsider candidacy, but in that case I would tell the truth.
Here is an article I’ve kept on file for a while when I worked with a military spouse career nonprofit, from the AirForce Times touching on this exact issue: Mission Family: Employers do want military spouses
You can also reference the following brochure to help you with your discussion in the event that your military status comes to fruition during an interview: Military Spouse Employment Brochure
“Has being a Military Spouse helped or hindered your career?”
Most military spouse professionals would agree that for some assignments, the military spouse label was hindering and for others it served as another avenue to find rewarding employment.
When I was living amongst a small military community in Florida where “military friendly” employers were not commonly sought out or advertised, it was discouraged to volunteer military spouse status when seeking “professional” employment. I was seeking a mid-level management position and a 5-year plan was a significant focal point to the employer, whereas an entry level position focused more so on a 2-3 year plan. Based on this, I knew that it would not be beneficial to bring this up as a talking point during the interview. I was asked what brought me to Florida, and I advised that my husband’s job required us to relocate. When asked what he did for a living, I responded that he is in the communications field – he was a COMMUNICATIONS officer, so this was entirely true. My boss was not too excited to hear that I was a military spouse a few months after I was hired, but I was already integrated into the position and the environment, and was kicking butt in the process (we spouses have the gift to adapt QUICKLY)!
I will say that being a military spouse within the industry that I work in now is an ABSOLUTE PLUS! Most of my client base consists of military spouses and transitioning veterans/military members. I am an employment and recruiting consultant and living in a rather large military community like Colorado Springs adds a lot of value to my business and provides many opportunities to work with the local military installations to educate spouses on effective employment practices and tools in a way that they an relate to AS A FELLOW SPOUSE. This is another niche that won’t be available to me at our next upcoming assignment. Military-affiliated clientele trust our services over someone they would find in the Yellow Pages just because we are part of the military family and “we” exercise a certain type of empathy and identification with one another as military families.
Location is key, but networking is THE key – if there are military-friendly employers, sometimes the only way to inquire on those folks and their employment opportunities is to network within the military community.