Do I Mention the Military or Not?
This month, OSS hosted an event on NAS Atsugi focused on how we as military spouses can craft our stories during interviews. So much of our life can feel out of our control, but our professional story is something we can craft and tailor throughout the job application process. We can rework a gap in a resume as a sabbatical. We can highlight the ways we grew while working a job different from our degree. We can describe going back to school to refine our expertise. But do we bring up the fact that we’re military spouses? That question summons strong feelings for new and veteran spouses alike. For some, it’s a strict, “They don’t ask, I don’t tell” policy. But for others, they feel it is important to be honest up front in order to find a job that will support their whole lives, military craziness and all.
OSS interviewed spouses from all walks of professional life to hear their stories of triumph and frustration. While some were blatantly discriminated against, others were favored for positions because of their military affiliation. And if the subject just can’t be avoided, what traits as military spouses can we highlight to better sell ourselves for a job?
Deciding to Mention the Military
“I tread carefully with employer interviews. I actually have a resume tailored specifically with my military spouse experiences/accomplishments, and a resume that is completely scrubbed of any reference to the military. Depending on whether I can gauge an employer is military friendly absolutely determines which resume they receive.” – Katherine Lee Goyette, Deputy District Attorney
“While my career has been heavily influenced, and often impacted, by his military service, my career path is also separate of the military and something that is uniquely me. If it is brought up in an interview, I answer their questions and then bring the conversation back around to my resume and qualifications.” – Andrea, Marketing Professional
“I’m of the mindset that being clear up front is in both the employer’s best interest and yours. While I agree with the conversation that my spouse’s job has nothing to do with mine, we do not live in an environment where we have the opportunity to separate ourselves from the military. Our spouses’ careers aren’t just jobs – the military is a lifestyle…..In order to be the best employee, I have to be up front with my employer to ensure they understand that we’re not a typical dual-working family.” – Ali Maruca, Navy Reservist and Director of Outreach at the United Way of South Hampton Roads
When Being a Military Spouse is a Plus
“George Mason University has hired me several times as a temporary employee to fill a gap in staffing professional level positions for 6-12 months at a time while we’ve been there for shorter schools for my husband. GBX Consultants also hired me based on both my experience, background and the fact that I was a military spouse and could directly relate to the military audience I would be teaching. It was actually listed on the position description as a “plus” to be a spouse!” – Megan Parker, Contracts & Marketing Coordinator
“In the interview, the manager’s cell phone went off and her 8 year old daughter was calling. She apologize profusely, and I told her to answer – always answer a call from your child. She asked if I had kids, I said yes. And then I explained my status as a geo-bach spouse raising our daughter. She then asked me if I were to work remote, to allow me to join my husband in California, if that would make things easier on me and my family. And of course, I said yes. By opening up a human conversation between two moms, and being vulnerable, I was able to land a dream job – and have the opportunity to progress my career without sacrifices that I’ve made for 3 years.” – Kim Robertson
“At our first duty station when we were newly married, we went to purchase furniture at a local store my first day in town. The owner of the store started talking to me and asked what my previous jobs were. Next thing I knew, he was calling his friend (who owned a company in my career field) and a position was created especially for me. We were in a small town that loved the military and perhaps this is a “right time, right place” situation, but after this experience I have always known how valuable it can be to make connections with the communities in which you’re stationed.” Andrea, Marketing Professional
“I interviewed for a job at the State Department several years ago and my experience living in South Korea and Egypt was a selling feature for that position. They wanted someone who had extensive experience living and working with other cultures. In another position, I worked with families of fallen Soldiers and helped develop training for casualty assistance and notification officers, and my experience as a spouse was beneficial in that I had an intimate understanding of the fears of military families that come with each deployment, each training exercise, each training flight. Having been a spouse helped me relate to the trainers how they should approach families who are notified when tragedy strikes.” Staci-Jill Burnley, Public Affairs/Speechwriter
“I was already employed with the company, and told not even considered for the promotion opportunity because the hiring manager didn’t think I would be there for 2-4 years. This backfired on him because the person he promoted left the job after 1 year.” – Erica G, Supply Chain Operations Consultant
“It came up in the interview, asking why I had worked with a different population (children vs. adults/geriatrics) and I explained that was the only opportunity due to where we were, and that I took it as an opportunity to broaden my scope. I explained we had just moved to the area, and I would be there for about 3 years. The interview atmosphere changed immediately – they had mentioned how good of a fit they felt I would be at least twice earlier in the interview. I never heard back.” – Allison K, Licensed Clinical Social Worker – Associate
“I don’t have to presume about why employers dismissed me. I was told outright that they didn’t want to retrain upon my relocation. When I finally found work, we were surprised with orders and had to move six months later. My boss was furious. He advised me not to put that position on my resume, because he would not give a good recommendation. The sting from that first duty station stayed with me for years. I never spoke of my spouse status again in an interview, and I only took remote work from then on.” – Anne Malinoski
Selling Your Skills
“As a military spouse, I often find myself in strange predicaments and have to find creative solutions to move on. I apply this to my ability to be a solution-finder in the workplace—since I get thrown fastballs all the time, you can absolutely expect me to figure out solutions to problems instead of giving up.” – Katherine Lee Goyette, Deputy District Attorney
“Military spouses cope with change management on a regular basis, while operating independently with minimal guidance in a short amount of time. Spouses know how to prioritize tasks to ensure that the maximum is completed with the budget and in a timely manner. Also, in the absence of clear direction, they will ask clarification.” – Erica G, Supply Chain Operations Consultant
“I explain that my life as a milspouse allows me to meet people from all over the world, to learn about new cultures, forces me to adapt quickly. That adaptation helps me learn resources in every new city I am in, faster than someone who is not a milspouse. With that knowledge, I am able to serve better my populations.” Allison K, Licensed Clinical Social Worker – Associate
“I have found my best “pitch” to employers to be: ‘I may only be here for 2-3 years, but non-military spouse employees tend to only stay in positions for 18 months to two years regardless. I have a demonstrated track record of outlasting several colleagues at former employers, and although I may only be here for a pre-determined time, I can tell you that I am dedicated and will work extremely hard during that period. I can say with confidence that I get more done in two years than some people can do in five.’” – Lindsey Savage, Attorney and Board Member of The Military Spouse JD Network
Deciding to dodge or address the elephant in the room can be a difficult decision for military spouses. It’s up to us as professionals to read employers and either focus on our job history and accomplishments or be up front in the hopes that honesty will work in our favor. Regardless of if we bring up the military or not, we can be proactive in crafting our professional stories and articulate our goals.