by Andrea M. Wynne
Whenever most people see someone in uniform with their families or find out that a friend or colleague is married to a service member, the common response is: “Thank you for your service or please thank your spouse.” However, when reviewing resumes and screening for talent, gratitude may not be what comes to mind for many employers. Although there are more partnerships today to assist with this need and a greater understanding of the military lifestyle, there is still a significant amount of work to be done.
As a person who has been a military spouse for more than 20 years, I have personally felt the angst and anxiety of applying for jobs in fear of being dismissed because of frequent moves. The locations for each job, the organizations in which we volunteer and even the universities we attend can often be a dead giveaway about why there are gaps in employment and job changes. Although hiring managers should screen resumes objectively, some will see gaps and moves in a negative way. It is my opinion, that these assumptions unfairly label military spouses and do not take into account that anyone can move at any time and employee loyalty is not what it used to be. In fact, according to research by LinkedIn.com, the Millennial Generation will move jobs up to four times within their first decade out of college. Therefore, even if an employee has no affiliation with the military, they may leave an organization after a very short time.
Additionally, I have had colleagues who are military spouses say that they were passed over for promotions and told that they could not take advantage of professional development courses because employers were more focused on their marital status than on their talents and strengths. Yes, there are laws against blatant discrimination, but what about the conversations and biases that are unseen or are only spoken about behind closed doors? As with most things, the only way to combat such biases is to raise awareness and stereotypes that create the stigma.
In addition to a degree (I have a B.A. in human resources and an M.A. in education), military spouses bring valuable additional skills and experience to an employer’s work force. Below are three reasons why military spouses add value to an organization whether they are employees for two years or 20:
- Life Experiences: When a person has traveled domestically or internationally, it often means they have varied experiences that help them connect to others. They have, most likely, met different and diverse people, learned new cultures, and maybe even new languages. If customer service or connection in any form is required in a position, imagine the value that someone who has seen three countries and lived in four states can add.
- Flexibility: Remember the three countries and four states? Well, most military families also have to jump through many hoops to get things done for every single move. Furthermore, there is often a great deal of uncertainty surrounding deployments, temporary duty, and even day-to-day schedules of their loved ones. After a lifetime of “hurry up and wait,” military spouses grow to be quite the flexible and understanding group.
- Strategic Thinkers: Moving an entire household, finding new schools, doctors, vets, and hairdressers every few years in new states and countries can be quite the challenging task. Military spouses have to draw on their strategic thinking skills to figure out how to keep the family going and how to create a new home in a place they have never been. After a few moves, they begin to find patterns and gaps not only in the services they seek out, but in organizations in which they work. A person who has diversity of thought could be just the innovator a company needs to help them grow and excel.
The overarching message here is not to say that military spouses are better or more skilled than anyone else or that anyone owes us a job. The key take away is that when trying to find that perfect cultural fit or fresh face to help an organization with its mission, the practice of automatically assuming that being married to the military means money lost, is an opportunity lost.
Andrea M. Wynne, Career Development Specialist and Global Career Development Facilitator, The University of Washington – Tacoma