Tips for Military Spouses Returning to Work
Returning to work after years away is complicated enough, but the combination of lengthy overseas postings, having to function as a single parent when a spouse is deployed, and moving every two to three years, on top of the usual issues of lack of confidence, reviving old networks and creating new ones, and figuring out what you really want to do, can make the process even more overwhelming. As a military spouse, it's no wonder that you may question your ability to make a successful back to work transition even more than your civilian counterparts.
However, these challenges can be addressed and overcome. We have found that success in returning to work has less to do with number of years out of the workforce, age, or reason for the break, and more to do with identifying exactly what you want to do, updating yourself so you are ready and qualified, and then being absolutely relentless about persevering until you get hired.
Don't make the mistake of taking your strengths for granted, and thinking they are not worth highlighting to potential employers. Employers tend not to recognize the special capabilities military spouses bring to the workforce, so make sure you emphasize these strengths in a job interview.
Also don't think that returning to work is not "worth it" because the incremental income you will bring in will be wiped out by childcare and other costs of working. You and your spouse should look at your projected combined income and weigh your expenses against that combined number. Your first year or two of working may be a breakeven proposition, but those early years are an investment in the profitable years to come when your kids are in school (and day care costs decrease) and you are making more money.
For military spouse relaunchers, Katja Presnal (see her story below) provides the following excellent advice: "Including your military spouse activities on your resume is an easy way to show the potential employers what you are capable of -- for example fundraising, involvement with Family Readiness Group (FRG) or supporting other military organizations like BOSS (Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers), or even organizing events like Cav Ball, promotion parties or homecomings. Also, Twitter is a great tool to get connected fast with people in any geographic location or occupational field."
I would add that you should describe your military spouse activities in business terms, quantifying results whenever possible ("attendance increased 30% over the previous year", or "the event raised twice as much money as in past years"), and include them in a "Career Break Experience" section on your resume.
Here is some additional advice specifically for military spouses looking to resume careers after a career break:
I. QUALIFICATIONS: You have unique qualifications to offer employers as a military spouse. Make sure you highlight these areas of expertise when you discuss your strengths:
You are emotionally resilient because you have had to deal with your spouse being away on lengthy military deployments, often with his/her life at stake.
- Experience in Dealing with Uncertainty
You are constantly dealing with uncertainty about your spouse's whereabouts, and the timing and location of your next posting. Dealing with uncertainty is a qualification lacking in many job candidates at any life stage.
- Comfortable with Constant Transition
The business world is in a constant state of flux. Transition is a way of life for military spouses, and your comfort level with transition is a strength.
Military spouses have benefits, so benefits do not need to be part of your compensation
package. Use this as a bargaining chip when negotiating terms of your employment.
II. READINESS: Due to moves and your spouse's deployment status, relaunch readiness may be trickier for you than for non-military spouses. This means you may need to wait longer than a non-military spouse to relaunch your career. This also means you need to be extra patient with yourself as you move forward in the process. To score your readiness in three categories, take iRelaunch's Relaunch Readiness Quiz here.
- Lack of a Support Network
Because of frequent moves, military spouses often do not have time to develop friends and family support networks to turn to when their spouse is away and they need coverage for going to work. If you are in a new area without an entrenched network, you will still be able to use your out of area contacts to help. Use tools such as LinkedIn to find out where those "people from the past" are now. (See our iRelaunch website for more networking info).
- At Home Responsibilities are Overwhelming
Since you are bearing the brunt of the childcare and eldercare responsibilities alone, you may feel these responsibilities are too overwhelming to consider returning to work even if you did have some sort of support community in place. This may be another factor in your "relaunch readiness".
- Take a Series of Baby Steps
Find career-relevant volunteer work (we call this "strategic volunteering") that can be done when your schedule permits, Take one class at a time instead of enrolling in a more demanding program. Seek occasional consulting work from time to time. The objective is to maximize current and relevant experiences , so reference to these experiences can be made during informal networking, formal interviewing and on resumes.
- Consider employment with global employers
Global employers have offices in many locations to which you could transfer or from which you could possibly work remotely. Some of the big accounting firms actually require their CPA's to switch offices every few years in order to get broad client exposure.
- Seek employment with a staffing firm such as Mom Corps.
Mom Corps places employees in interim or part time positions that often convert to full time positions. Mom Corps is also franchising and looking for Franchisees. Which reminds me...
- Starting Your Own Business is an Option for Some but Not Everyone
Keep in mind the cash requirements and income delay starting your business often requires. Entrepreneurship is not for everyone. The two relaunch success stories featured below are of military spouses who started their own ventures in very different ways.
- Small to mid-sized companies are often interested in relaunchers.
Small to mid-sized companies are often thrilled to hire high caliber employees who are returning from a career break, even for a two to three year period.
- Target "Military Friendly" Companies
Military Spouse magazinereleased a list of the Top 10 Military Spouse Friendly Employers 2009 in their October 2009 issue. They include USAA, Home Depot, Re/Max, West Corporation, Health Net Corporation, and more.
- Develop Transferable Skills
Military spouses in the fields of human resources, IT, nursing, sales, and teaching report an easier time finding employment after a transfer.
IV. Success Stories of Military Spouses (and others) Relaunching Careers
||"I am originally from Finland and came to the U.S. via my marriage to my helicopter pilot husband. I began my career in PR right out of high school, working in a PR position while I was in college. After an eight year career break involving six moves in seven years while my husband was in the military, and three kids born in three years in three different countries...."
Read More about Katja's story.
"After my husband got out of the Marines, we returned home in December 2004 and found out I was pregnant with twins. I decided I'd stay at home with them. I began blogging in March 2006..." Read more about Monica's story.
See more relaunch success stories.
Carol Fishman Cohen is the co-author of the acclaimed career reentry book Back on the Career Track: A Guide for Stay-at-Home Moms Who Want to Return to Work, and the co-founder of iRelaunch, a company providing career reentry programming, events, and information to employers, universities, organizations and to mid-career professionals in all stages of career break. For more information on Relaunching, for military or non-military spouses, see iRelaunch and check out Back on the Career Track.