The White House’s Joining Forces initiative has placed a special emphasis on military families, including a call to action for employers to hire veterans and military spouses.    Why military spouses?  Have you heard the saying “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy”?  The gist is that if the military spouse believes that the service member’s continued service in the military is negatively impacting the family, including the spouse’s employment opportunities, the service member is more likely to discontinue his service in order to restore harmony in the household.  This becomes a readiness and staffing management issue for the military, and is why the DoD has a real focus on spousal employment.

Roughly 50% of today’s Active / Guard / Reserve members are married.  That equates to more than 1 million spouses.  If you’ve noticed I’ve so far referred to military spouses as “she”, that’s because more than 90% of the spouses are women.    85% of military spouses report wanting or needing to work, in order to contribute to family finances and/or to contribute to personal career goals, desires and personal fulfillment.  However, despite the high percentage of those who want or need to work, this population has a 26% unemployment rate – 1 in 4 are unemployed and are actively seeking work.

So, why should you care? 

While there isn’t a tax credit or other financial incentive to hire military spouses, it is a large, under-tapped pool of diverse women, and most employers do place significant emphasis on recruiting diverse women.  Perhaps you are getting hammered in OFCCP audits on your affirmative action practices toward hiring women and/or minorities.  If you are already recruiting women from campuses and from targeted career events like Women for Hire, you should also consider sourcing from the military spouse population.

So what are some of the military spouse’s challenges to attaining employment?  It’s not education:

  • 84% have some college
  • 25% have a bachelors degree
  • 10% have an advanced degree

And, it’s not a lack of transferrable functional skills.  To survive as a military spouse, you have to be highly organized, able and willing to take initiative absent clear guidence, and smart enought to use your network to obtain information on how to accomplish unfamiliar tasks.

Much of the problem stems from employer resistance.  The most common argument I hear against recruiting military spouses is the concern that the spouse is only going to be around for 3 years or so before the military member has to relocate.  There are 2 main problems with this argument:

  • You cannot guarantee that any employee is going to be with you for even that long.  Gen Y in particular has a reputation of changing jobs after 2 years.  So why would you actively discriminate against a military spouse?
  • While the relocation issue may accurately apply to spouses of active duty service members, it is not the case with spouses of Guard and Reserve members, who have been a part of their communities for much longer. 

One spouse I spoke with at a conference this summer described it beautifully: “I may only be with you for 3 years, but let me show you how much I’ve been able to accomplish in previous jobs in just three short years!”

Unlike the military member, who struggles to translate his/her military occupation into something a civilian recruiter would understand, the military spouse generally does not have any issues with describing past work experience and skills.  Their challenge is one of making a civilian recruiter/hiring manager not misinterpret things they see on the resume as signs of being a chronic job-hopper or of being someone who takes unexplained extended breaks from her career.  In order to better help you understand and interpret what you might see in a military spouse’s resume, here are two typical descriptions:

Military Spouse (Active Military):  Moves with the service member every 2-4 years upon reassignment orders.  Depending on location of assignment, particularly an overseas assignment, may not be able to obtain a job at all (causing a career gap) or may have to take a job that is below the level of a previously held position (i.e., under employed).  Resume may contain a hodgepodge list of past positions, based on what was available at the location where family was stationed.

Military Spouse (Guard or Reserve):  Have been a part of the community for an extended period, but may be seeking full time employment due to the mobilization and deployment of the service member.  A percentage of Guard/Reserve families lose income when the service member is called to active duty and the spouse has to transition from part time to full time employment or may be seeking full time employment for the first time after an extended absence from full time work.

So, if you are a civilian employer who wants to add more diverse women to your workforce, I suggest you look into hiring military spouses.  Here are a few options for you to reach this demographic:

– National or global presence with offices in many different locations, such as retail, insurance, hospitality and banking/financial services

– Flexible roles with virtual or work from home / work from where ever opportunities.

– Flexible schedules, whether unstructured start/end times or shift work

  • Milicruit’s Virtual Career Fair is always open to military spouses, and on May 7th it is hosting a military spouse- specific career fair.  The career fair is free for the spouses to attend.
  • The US Chamber’s Hiring Our Heroes initiative is conducting hundreds of career fairs annually for veterans.  This Friday (Jan 13th) it has partnered with MSEP to host a military spouse-specific career fair in Washington, DC.  These career fairs are free for the military spouse to attend.
  • You can advertize in periodicals directed at this market, such as Military Spouse magazine.