By Charlene Wilde
In October 2015, a dear friend of my family had sudden heart attack and died at 39, leaving behind his wife and three boys. I helped the family as much as I could during their time of need but, of course, I always felt like there was more that I could be doing. Shortly after my friend’s funeral, I was contacted through my local spouse employment office about a position with The American Armed Forces Mutual Aid Association (AAFMAA), in its survivor assistance department, which I graciously accepted. I am not sure if I would have been so drawn to this position if I had not just watched a dear friend of mine suffer.
Fast-forward to March of 2016 when my father, a Vietnam veteran, was diagnosed with lung cancer and given just six weeks to live. My position with AAFMAA enabled me to assist my parents and give my dad peace of mind that his wife would be taken care of. In life, things are often all about perspective. For military spouses, no matter your location, family situation or partner’s rank, considering employment options can be tricky and inspiration can come when you least expect it. In my case, an unfortunate tragedy opened me up to new opportunities to grow not only personally but also professionally.
Today, military spouses are lucky enough to live in a world where they have more opportunities for employment than ever before. This is due, in part, to a growth of online and part-time positions and recent executive actions which promote non-competitive hiring of military spouses. Every spouse’s situation is unique, but here are some general tips you can follow to help ease the process if you are considering entering the workforce.
Are you ready to work?
This is the first question you need to ask and, though it seems like an obvious one, there’s a bit more to it. In any marriage, there is always a necessary balance between career and home life. This might mean one spouse takes time off from professional work to focus full-time on raising children and managing the home. In a military marriage, this can happen to a more extreme degree, as one spouse might be deployed and unable to help out at home for several months. It is important to be honest and open in order to create a long-term understanding of career priorities and roles. This includes understanding and appreciating a spouse’s contributions to the family, even if they aren’t defined by a paycheck.
Once you’ve had an honest discussion about employment options with your spouse, there are external factors to consider and some are more concrete than others. On the logistical side, you need to consider your location and how long your family expects to remain in your current station. This can impact the type of position you are eligible for. Will your spouse be deployed in the near future? Will you be able to continue working your job and managing the household and children while your spouse is away?
The most important factors to consider are the social and emotional ones. If your main job has been stay-at-home spouse and parent duties for many years, how do your children feel about your return to the workforce? It is important to talk to them about your plans in a way that they’ll understand and consider their questions and concerns. And don’t forget self-reflection! You need to be honest with yourself about your expectations and abilities. Some military spouses might be tempted to rush back to work before they are actually ready, which can cause unnecessary strain on themselves and their home life.
Understand yourself and the job market
Before wading into the application process, you should familiarize yourself with what is available in your local area and contrast your options with your own abilities and qualifications. Consider your education and past job experience. For some spouses, jumping back into what they studied or into the same field they may have been working in before marriage can be easy. However, depending on the industry and length of time you’ve been out of work, you might find that certain aspects of the job have changed. For instance, my degree was in environmental science, a field that changed drastically when I was out of the workforce. If you aren’t comfortable returning to a previous career, reentering the working world as a military spouse can be a great opportunity to start fresh and learn something new.
Don’t forget to take a look at what kinds of positions are available and what aligns with your current lifestyle and family situation. Luckily, in this day and age, spouses aren’t limited to work on their base or in the surrounding town. Many work-at-home and virtual positions are available that allow you to juggle home duties while maintaining a career. For many spouses, this is a great place to start as these positions have flexible hours, give you opportunities to build your resume and network and many can eventually be leveraged in to a part-or full-time role.
Tap into your experiences and resources to tell your story
As I mentioned before, career inspiration can strike you at any time. Many military spouses start new careers based on their passions or as a result of life experiences. If you are unsure of where to start, that’s okay too! Most bases have spouse employment offices where you can go to seek counseling at all stages of the process. There are also many resources and social forums available online where spouses can interact with each other, network and get advice from others who are in the same boat.
When creating or updating your resume, there are creative ways to leverage volunteer experience and any employment gaps which happened as a result of your duties as an at-home military spouse. While the new executive order ensures equal opportunity for military spouses applying for jobs, take advantage of any chances to elaborate on your personal experiences and what sets you apart. Interviews as well as cover letters and comment sections on applications are great places to expand on how your role as a military spouse and parent makes you uniquely qualified for the position you’re applying for.
There are countless ways for military spouses to find empowerment in a career. Whether it’s rediscovering old passions or finding new inspiration, there’s a lot to consider when you decide to take this step. This list can be a great place for spouses to start when thinking about reentering the workforce.
Charlene Wilde is a veteran and military spouse. She is the Assistant Secretary of AAFMAA, our nation’s longest standing military financial services non-profit and a contributor to Spouselink, a site that informs and connects Military Spouses.