Military Spouse Employment Basics: Tips from 4 Experts

Military Spouse Employment Basics: Tips from 4 Experts

Attendees gather in advance of a panel discussion at a Military Spouse Symposium, sponsored by the Military Officers Association of America, aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C. (Cpl. Mary M. Carmona/Marine Corps)

[Editor's Note: If you are an active-duty military spouse in the San Antonio area on Oct 1st or in Hawaii on Oct. 15th, please join the MOAA professional development team for the “Keeping a Career on the Move®” Military Spouse Symposium presented by the MOAA Foundation in partnership with Hiring Our Heroes' Military Spouse Program. Details may be found here.]

Finding a job is hard enough. It's even harder for a military spouse who travels the globe for their servicemember's career.

Some duty stations in rural areas offer few opportunities. Some career fields require spouses to go through hoops to obtain state-specific licenses or certifications. About 16 percent of military spouses are unemployed - that's four times the national unemployment rate, according to a 2017 survey conducted by Hiring Our Heroes.

Four experts in military spouse employment shared their thoughts on these challenges and others during a panel presentation at the Air Force Association's Air, Space and Cyber Conference on Tuesday at National Harbor, Md.:

  • Jen Griswold, an Air Force veteran and Air Force spouse who authored the book “Mission Entrepreneur,” which helps people start their own businesses.
  • Ted Hacker, president and co-founder of the American Freedom Foundation, a nonprofit organization that raises money for organizations that support servicemembers, veterans, and military families.
  • Melinda Manyx, with the Defense's Department's Transition Assistance Program.
  • Mel McGuire, the deputy director of the Air Force's Civilian Force Management Directorate.

Snippets of their advice, edited for clarity:

Q: Are there programs for young military spouses - think 18 to 19 years old - in finding jobs or helping set them up for applying for those jobs?

Hacker: There are so many resources online that can help spouses of all ages. Things like the Military Spouse Foundation or Military OneSource, those kinds or organizations are really geared to helping spouses.

Education is so important so we hope they look for those opportunities advance their own profile to make them more eligible for employment.

Q: What's your advice for families stationed in rural areas?

McGuire: Airman and Family Readiness Centers - that was one of the first doors I entered as a young military spouse. They helped crack out my resume, they gave me resources, became my best friend, basically, in that installation overseas. It was a big win-win for me to open up my eyes and help me get through that door.

And, of course, volunteer opportunities exist at some of these locations, so I would encourage folks to take that on. And not just in the non-appropriated fund employment, but we have the non-appropriated fund employment that also has a great amount of opportunities within our service arena, so there's no shortage of opportunities there to at least get your foot in the door. Sometimes hiring challenges are tough and we look for folks with those particular skill sets there.

Q: Are squad commanders empowered to help spouses with employment?

Manyx: They're not empowered to help them, however they are empowered to encourage them to attend the Transition Assistance Program.

I would encourage spouses to attend, and encourage all the commanders out there to encourage the spouses to attend, because it may be geared toward the servicemembers, but the information translates to anyone looking for a job.

Q: Do you have a secret weapon as a military spouse?

Griswold: I think we do a great job of learning how to be emotionally intelligent leaders as spouses in the military because we change environments so often.

It takes a lot of skill to be able to walk into a new job and learn who's who and be able to navigate the dynamics of the situation. I think that's another thing that helps you in your desire to get hired or just to hire yourself. You have a whole set of skills that other people don't have. You've been able to move and move your family and a lot of times by yourself - and to fix the toilet along the way - and also to move the kids into a new school and meet those parents.

Those are all very valuable skills that will come to help you in any capacity whether it's working or doing your own thing. It really does make a difference when you have those skills.

Amanda Dolasinski is MOAA's staff writer. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMOAA.


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