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Putting the Right Spin on Employers’ Assumptions about Military Spouses

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Military spouses face some serious challenges in the job market, especially compared to our civilian counterparts. A 2007 study by the RAND Institute found that military spouses consistently had higher unemployment rates, lower wages, and slimmer prospects for advancement than civilian spouses with the same education, experience, and demographic profile. Researchers suspect that the discrepancy may be partially due to employers’ negative perceptions of military spouses.

Although it is technically illegal for your prospective employer to ask you about your marital or family status as part of the hiring process, if the question comes up, it can be pretty hard to dodge.  Other clues, like a succession of jobs in military towns spaced just a few years apart on your resume, may also identify you as a military spouse.  That does not have to be a barrier to getting a great job at your new post, or to advancing in your current job.

Fortunately, if you adopt the right attitude and think creatively about the insights and experience you have gained as a military spouse, you can use your application, resume, and job interview as an opportunity to disprove those perceptions and present your military spouse experience as an incredible asset to any prospective employer.

Frequent Relocation

Employers know that military families relocate often.  Some employers may not be familiar with current military dwell times, so they may expect these moves to be more frequent than they actually are.  For an employer, this means that hiring a military spouse may not provide a good return on the time, money, and effort spent training a new employee.  It also means that the company faces another hiring search much sooner than might be necessary with a civilian candidate.  Relocation is likely to be a big issue for your employer if he or she is even slightly familiar with the military.

Don’t bring it up unless you are asked (there is no point in creating challenges) but if your employer raises the issue, be honest.  Explain what your dwell time at this post is likely to be, or what average military dwell times are.  Recognize that your untimely departure will be an inconvenience to the company, but explain how your skills, experience, and qualifications make you worth the risk.  You can also tell your new employer what you did at your last job to help mitigate the impact of your move on the company.

Deployment, Disruption, and Distraction

Many employers, especially those in “military towns,” may also assume that military spouses are likely to be frequently distracted by life upheavals like deployments and reintegration.  If you conducted yourself well at your last job, you should be able to address concerns about disruptive life events, such as deployments, by confidently assuring your prospective employer that your references will all vouch for your ability to remain professional and dependable.  If you are less confident in your references, make this case yourself; be sincere, confident, and reassuring.  Give examples if possible.

Negative Stereotypes

Unfortunately, some employers also hold very negative stereotypes of lazy or gossipy military spouses.  Nothing you say out loud will dispel stereotypes as effectively as your actions and your attitude.  For example, it should be obvious that you are not lazy; you are looking for a job, and you are ready, willing, and eager to work.  Show your prospective employer that you are not a gossip, either; be careful what you say about your last job.  Never criticize the job, coworkers, boss, or customers; if asked about your last position, try to find something positive to say.

Life Experience

Being a part of the military community can be an incredible learning experience.  Present it to your prospective employer as life experience that makes you a more mature, well-rounded job candidate.  Your experience as a military spouse has taught you quite a bit.

Through deployments, relocations, and other disruptions (the same things your employer may be worried about; here’s a chance to spin them in your favor), you have learned stress management skills, adaptability, and flexibility.  These experiences have taught you to learn new skills and routines quickly, and to react positively and productively to change. All of these things are useful job skills, and they can only be gained through experience.

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Exposure to military culture has given you an opportunity to absorb traditional military values like integrity, loyalty, dedication, professionalism, service, and responsibility.  Life as a military spouse has helped you to understand, appreciate, and practice teamwork and leadership.  You are comfortable in a diverse environment.  These are also valuable job skills, and they are all keywords most employers look for in a resume.