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The Challenges of Maintaining a Career as a Military Spouse

Monday, July 15, 2013

I’ve been a bit frustrated lately. After five years of being CEO of the home, I think I’m ready to go back to work. I have my own personal thoughts and feelings about this, but mainly since Whitney will start pre-kindergarten this fall, and we just PCSed to Fort Bliss, it finally feels right to begin working outside the home again. But reentering the workforce hasn’t been that simple. What with moving every couple of years and staying home to raise the girls, I have a couple large gaps in my employment history. So I can understand why this would make employers want to trash my resume at first sight. Luckily, I’ve been following a few job boards that partner with employers who specifically seek out military spouses (more on this later.) Still, half a decade has gone by since I was employed fulltime outside the home, and I’ve had to completely re-think/re-vamp my job seeking perspective and strategies.

For the past two weeks my family and I were on a wonderful vacation to California and Arizona to spend time with extended family. While sea-side in Cali, I succumbed and read the noteworthy book Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. When it first released there was a lot of hoopla over it because Sandburg basically calls women out for not “leaning in” to their careers while balancing motherhood. I boycotted reading the feminist manifesto all the way up until the family vaca. because I guess I really didn’t care what some Harvard Business School graduate turned Facebook COO had to say about balancing career-life and motherhood. “What could we possibly have in common?” I thought. Ha. It turns out, we have a lot in common. I poured over the book like it was my career advancing bible. Everything she said made sense. She’s convinced me that I wasn’t “leaning in” to my career. I didn’t think that it was even possible to do it all. I turned the final page of the book and went straight over to her Ted Talk about women in the workforce. I’m ashamed to say, the woman is right. Many of us don’t lean the freak in. We absentmindedly choose not to sit at the table.

Prior to reading Lean In I had many frustrated discussions with Brandon about having a career as a military spouse. How was I to continue advancing my career while moving every three years en lieu of his career, and while raising a family? Something would surely have to give. So I leaned out of my career to stay home with my girls. This plan was furthest from the path I envisioned for myself when I was younger. I always wanted a family, but I couldn't have predicted marrying into the military after college. And lets face it, military life puts a huge wrench in plans. So I stayed home and it’s been a beautiful blessing to have been able to do this. I know how fortunate I am to have spent the first few precious years at home with the littles. But as with all of life’s natural progressions, it’s time I head back to the workforce. And I’m doing it with a different mind frame.

I now understand that the old adage of “climbing the corporate ladder” is no longer a feasible way of looking at advancing a career. Whew. A huge relief. Seriously. If I had to climb my way from the ground up for career advancement, I wouldn’t get past the first rung. This is because I start fresh in a new community every three years and it would be very unlikely for me to remain with one employer from now until retirement. I would have to, in most cases, become a New Hire with a different employer every three years. My old perspective of staying with one company and climbing the corporate ladder until retirement is outdated. Swinging around the corporate jungle gym is in. I am alive with realizing that I don’t have to stay in one particular field for growth. I can crawl, climb and jump through fields, skills, and titles. It’s ok, I realize, because eventually I will get experience, and experience lends to greater responsibility and pay. And c’mon. The bottom line to having a career is earning an income to sustain a future for myself and my family.


The Career of the Military Spouse _ Ideas and Tips to Help Maintain a Career in the Military

Days before I left for this whirlwind two week-long vacation, I turned down a job with the leading national military bank. This is true. I have never in my life turned down a job. This happened, of course, before I poured over the pages of Lean In. I know if Sheryl Sandberg were alongside me two weeks earlier, there’s a good chance I would’ve accepted the position. Then again maybe not. Sandberg also talks about how women should be negotiating pay like our male counterparts. This I did. I negotiated pay. I have never in my life done this with another employer, either. They were non-negotiable. So I walked away. Maybe Sheryl would have high-fived me rather than chastised me for not fully leaning in. I didn’t take less than what I deserve.

I found this open position on the company’s website. In the past I have tended to only apply for companies with which I hold in very high respect, and therefore I knew that this bank was a company I’d like to work for. Going directly to the company’s website to set up a career profile is a great way to show them that you’re genuinely interested.

Helpful Military-Geared Job Boards:

Other Tips:
Do you tell your employer that you’re a military spouse? I’ve been letting my recruiters know that I am a milspouse. In the past, I believed this admission to be a kiss of death, but I’ve come to realize that it’s actually a very good thing – especially if I’m applying for a company with a military partnership. Many companies are seeking the skills we possess such as dependability, loyalty, efficient time management, and great communication skills - so why not let ‘em know right out of the gate? If they don’t want to hire me because I’m a milspouse, then it's probably best for both parties. Being a milspouse doesn’t impair my ability to do my job well, and it shouldn’t matter what my husband does for a career. If they don’t want to hire me because of this lifestyle, then that’s on them. They’re loosing a very hard worker. And I’ll just move on to another company who values a mutual respect business relationship.

Fill The Gap. My last date of professional employment was April 15, 2012. So, to fill the gap between then and now, I have done some volunteer work and dedicated time to this blog. This looks a tiny bit better on a resume than having huge gaping holes between employers.

Resume Tips:
A book that was very influential to me was, How to Write a Perfect Resume by Karol Zerr. She blew my mind with her revolutionary ways or writing a resume that gets you noticed.


I would love to hear from you.

Military or not, what are your own personal career challenges?

What do you think of Sheryl Sandberg’s talk? Thoughts on Lean In?

How do you overcome the challenges of having a career as a military spouse?

Erin Bettis

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