“Are there gaps in your résumé?” “Avoid gaps in your résumé.” “Make sure you have a ready explanation for why there are — gasp! — gaps in your résumé.”
For parents who try to “on-ramp” back into the workforce after spending years caring for children, hearing such well-intentioned advice can make a job search feel extra intimidating.
Now imagine facing such daunting circumstances after bouncing around the country or the world with your family for months or years on end. Thousands of military spouses are contending with just that.
The wives of armed forces members are about three times more likely to be unemployed than their civilian counterparts, according to a recent study by the Military Officers Association of America that included a survey of some 2,600 women. A stunning 90 percent of wives of active service members report that they are underemployed, meaning they had more education or experience than necessary at their current or most recent jobs. Many of these women are working moms — nearly three out of four active service member wives have children under the age of 18, according to the study.
Much of the unemployment and underemployment is a result of managers looking askance at gaps in a military spouse’s job history said Scott Vedder, a recruiter and résumé expert.
“The average military spouse moves many, many times and that can lead to a lack of continuity in employment,” Vedder said. But what spouses may lack in consistent employment, they more than make up for with qualities such as strong values and skills honed through various military base activities and organizations.
Vedder, the author of the book, Signs of a Great Résumé, is publishing a special veterans’ edition of the book next month. The new book — which can be donated to military families in need through this campaign — includes a section just for spouses. Below, Vedder gives me a quick rundown of some of his tips for both military wives and husbands.
1. Ensure Your Résumé Mentions You’ve Been Supporting a Military Family Member
Vedder says you can note that you support a military family member near the top of your résumé in a “summary of qualifications” section. You want employers to know you’re a military spouse, he said, because it helps explain gaps in your employment. Some employers actually have military spouse hiring programs, but you’ll only be eligible if you let your recruiter know. Military family members may also be eligible for “veterans preference” when applying to federal or state agencies — more information on that is available here.
2. Explain How You’ve Contributed to Family Readiness or Ombudsman Programs
Groups that plan welcome and send-off events for active service members and provide support for military families are a mainstay on military bases, though they go by different names depending on what branch of the military your spouse is serving in. The groups build “a strong sense of community and a lot of it is due to the hard work of military spouses,” Vedder said. That work may include fundraising, managing expenses, reconciling accounts, and more. “All those things translate to transferable skills when you’re looking for work,” Vedder said. Vedder also recommends quantifying your specific accomplishments. You could, for instance, write that you’ve organized send-off parties at three military bases for 500 troops instead of going with something less descriptive.
3. Showcase Your Volunteerism and Community Service Activities
Do you volunteer at school events? Help coach a sports team? Pitch in with the USO? Put it on your résumé! “For people who may not have worked, an ongoing commitment to volunteerism shows you have followed through, keep regular schedule and you’re actively participating in your community,” Vedder said. He also recommends including the number of hours you volunteer per week. “It shows, ‘Hey, I’m practically keeping a part-time work schedule,'” he said.
4. Articulate Workplace Skills You’ve Mastered While Running Your Household
Managing a tight household budget, comparison shopping, tax preparation, blogging and teleconferencing (with a deployed service member) are just some of the skills military spouses master, especially when their husbands and wives are away. Like skills honed through volunteer activities, the skills that spouses employ in their everyday lives can be transferable to civilian jobs too, Vedder said. List those skills in a functional résumé, instead of a more traditional résumé listing your chronological work history, to make it clear to employers that you have the know-how to excel in a desired job.
5. Take Advantage of Credentialing Programs That Enable State-to-State Mobility
From teachers to healthcare workers, moving to a new state may mean seeking new credentials necessary to secure work. That process might take months, but military spouses often have the option for a faster track: Many states have programs designed to expedite license transfers for military spouses. “Just because you’re moving, it doesn’t mean you have to start over again,” Vedder said.
Vedder is hoping to raise enough money to donate copies of the veterans edition of Signs of a Great Résumé to 2,000 veterans. To make a donation — $5 buys one book — visit the IndieGogo campaign here. The campaign ends April 25 and the book will go on sale for $12.95 this May.
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