It never fails: you finally get settled into your job, and your spouse gets orders. As military spouses, we all can relate to the different issues that can arise when trying to PCS a career. It is one of the top areas of concern and dissatisfaction for military spouses. Additionally, it’s also a source of stress in many military families when they are forced to live as a one income family rather than two.
Military spouse employment
Military spouse employment has been a top concern among military families for years. Unemployment and underemployment among military spouses is consistently much higher than their civilian counterparts. Before the 2020 pandemic, spouse unemployment was at 20%, while nationwide unemployment was around 3%. A study commissioned in 2020 by Blue Star Families found that only 18% of active duty spouses are able to retain employment through a PCS move. And 31% of survey respondents reported being unemployed after a PCS move. The report also estimates that military spouses with a bachelor’s degree earn 40 percent less than their civilian counterparts. Promotion can be difficult because of frequent moves and the general instability of military life.
The elusive career
There are many reasons other than frequent PCSing for high military spouse unemployment. Deployments, the high cost of child care at some duty stations, and employer bias in the hiring process are just some of the hurdles faced by spouses who want to work.
Many of those who are working are underemployed and earn less than their civilian peers with the same or similar occupation. Working at a job that’s not commensurate with your level of education or experience can be very frustrating.
Junior spouses are less likely to have moved multiple times and are more likely to be looking for entry-level jobs. Many have not started having children yet, so they can be much more flexible in their job search.
Senior spouses who have had several relocations have often held multiple jobs making it harder to build a career. And opportunities for advancement can be hard to come by.
Additionally, some jobs are easier than others to move. A job with a special certification or license can be especially hard to transfer, and it can take months to complete the recertification paperwork each time you move to a new state. Many times things get squared away just in time for another move!
Jamie Libby Boyle with the Military Spouse Corporate Career Network (MSCCN) says, “If you are a spouse just starting your career, you can be strategic in selecting a career that can hopefully move more easily with you.” She says, “Some companies are really excellent about working with their employees to make sure they can stay on their career trajectory.”
Recommendations for becoming gainfully employed after your next relocation include not settling or taking the first job that comes along. It can also be worth it to take your time and really evaluate whether a specific position helps to build your career. Does the new job meet your personal goals?
Leigh Searl, Founder and President of America’s Career Force, a company that connects career-minded military spouses with businesses across the nation, says it can be an uphill battle maintaining a career during frequent moves. But it is getting easier. “Employers realize that a remote worker can save a company $10,000 a year by keeping overhead costs lower.”
Look for volunteer opportunities in your community. It doesn’t help pay the bills, but volunteering allows you to meet people in your new community and who knows, you might just meet your new employer! Searl says volunteering can help bridge the gaps military spouses often have in their resume.
“It’s important for military spouses to have a conversation with a potential employer,” she says. “Many volunteer experiences such as an FRG leader require skills that employers would find useful.”
Tell everyone you know that you are looking for work. It is amazing how often just letting people know that you are hitting the job market ends up paying off. Word of mouth in the military community is gold so take advantage of it! Most military spouses are great at networking, so learn how to leverage those skills for finding a job. There are more tips here for networking before and after a move.
Use your resources!
There are numerous resources available to help military spouses find work including MSCCN, which offers employment readiness training programs and job placement solutions at no-cost to all military-affiliated spouses, retired military spouses, and caregivers to war wounded heroes.
America’s Career Force is an organization by military spouses for military spouses. This resource specializes in connecting career-minded military spouses who want to work remotely with businesses across the America. Founder and CEO, Leigh Searl says, “Working from home is not for everyone but for military spouses it can really be a lifesaver during frequent PCSes.”
PCSgrades Co-founder and CEO, Todd Ernst agrees. “We have several military spouses on staff here at PCSgrades and all work remotely. We’re excited that our staff can PCS and know that they have a job to come back to once the moving boxes are unpacked.”
Check with your local duty station to see what services they offer. At the Family Center, you can often get your resume written, be placed on a search list, or brush up on interviewing techniques. Don’t pass up these services aimed at helping you to launch your job search.
The Hiring Our Heroes Military Spouse Professional Network, formerly known as In Gear Career, is another resource which provides free professional career resources and advice tailored specifically for Military Spouses.
The Military Spouse Employment Partnership connects military spouses with potential employers. MSEP can help you prepare for entering the job market and connect you with the right kind of employers that need your skill set.
Boyle says, “If I could stress anything, it would be that spouses have to understand what they have and what programs and legislation apply to them; then, they have to be their own biggest advocates.”
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Carla Olivo knows all too well how difficult it can be to maintain a career as a militaryspouse. She met her husband, a U.S. Marine, while on assignment as a TV News reporter in the Middle East. She has had to reinvent herself several times over five PCSes. She lives in Northern Virginia with her husband, a retired USMC Lt. Colonel, and their two children.