For many military spouses, there is something discouraging about receiving that college or grad school alumni magazine in the mail. We read about the achievements of classmates who have rocketed through the professional ranks while we often struggle to find employment.
There are many military spouses that choose not to work outside the home. There are others who have maintained stellar careers or found success with home businesses and other portable professions. And more power to them. However, figures show that a significant number of military spouses aren’t working in fields for which they were trained. Many times, they’re not working at all. While the national unemployment rate hovers around 8% and the rate for veterans is slightly higher at 12%, the unemployment rate for military spouses is a whopping 26% according to the Pentagon’s office of Military and Community Family Policy.
The prospects of finding a job while our spouses are on active duty can be daunting. Employers are often reluctant to hire a military spouse when they can hire a candidate who is more likely to stay put. Those spouses who do find jobs are usually forced to leave when it is time for the next PCS.
Even when our spouses retire and we can offer permanence to prospective employers, we are saddled with resumes of a never-ending series of entry-level jobs and long employment gaps.
Now that I’m re-entering the job market, I’ve attended job fairs that have offered seminars and websites to teach us how to explain away those employment gaps or turn volunteer experience into job skills on our resumes. I understand that it is a tough market, and employers, if they are hiring at all, can afford to be choosy. But I am getting discouraged at being told that I have to minimize or spin my background as a military spouse to make myself more attractive to prospective employers.
Why should I have to hide or minimize what I’ve done while my husband has been on Active Duty? My legal resume has employment gaps, but I’m proud that I was able to support the mission. I’m proud of the skills I developed while my husband was deployed. Skills that would serve any employer well: self-reliance, flexibility, tenacity, goal-setting, loyalty, time-management, determination…
I don’t think we should have to talk about and “spin.” Maybe we need to change the conversation. Private employers need to see past our spotty resumes to appreciate the skills military spouses can bring to any job. Veterans get federal hiring preference in recognition of their service, and rightly so. Military spouses also get preference if a move is as a result of military orders. I’m wondering if it is time for veterans’ spouses who have supported the mission to be recognized in some way, too.
It’s time for all employers to understand that military and retiree spouses can be valuable employees not in spite of our backgrounds, but because of them.