Finding a new job isn’t easy. Add to the regular challenges the transient lifestyle of a military spouse. It’s not always as glamorous as our civilian friends might think. Case in point: the dreaded job hunt. There are many challenges that military spouses face when it comes to resumes and interviews, as discussed in our previous blog ie: Frequent PCSes, a lapse in employment to raise children, living abroad where licensing or language barriers were an issue. Whatever your challenge, there are a few simple ways to give your resume a face lift and capitalize on the amazing experiences you have been privy to as a military spouse. Here’s what we think you need to know in order to put your best foot forward.
- Keep it simple: Your resume is the first thing a potential employer is going to see when you are being considered for a position. Choose a simple, straightforward font and easy to follow formatting.
- Update your email address: Are you still rocking your email@example.com email address? Time for a change. That may work socially, but it’s a good idea to get a slicker, more professional email address to handle correspondence with potential employers. Move over cutiepie, firstname.lastname@example.org has arrived.
- Leave a message: On your resume use a phone number that has a short and professional message for your voicemail. Its also a good idea to make sure any calls you receive while job hunting will be answered promptly by you (and not your 4 year old son – cute as he may be).
- Focus your resume: Every job is a little bit different. Even if your job title would be the same at companies A and B, those companies have different values and therefore different cultures. A good rule of thumb is to change the content of your cover letter and your professional statement to address how you fit each specific job (and company) to which you apply. Then get into the nuts and bolts of your resume and tweak if necessary.
- Lead with your skills: If you have gaps in your resume or have held many jobs over the years consider choosing a functional resume format instead of a chronological resume format. Functional resumes present your relevant experience and skills first, thereby highlighting your strengths.
- Lose the jargon: Steer clear of military acronyms (i.e. PCS) and terminology that will not be understood in the civilian world. If you have relevant military experience, then spell it out – literally.
- Be yourself: Relax. Chances are you’re pretty fabulous. The hiring manager will sense your discomfort if you’re overly concerned with how you’ll be perceived in an interview or you try too hard to be something you are not. I’m always drawn to candidates who are authentic and know themselves well. However, focus the conversation on your professional accomplishments rather than your personal life.
- Dress the part: While its never a bad idea to have a suit handy or a sharp looking business casual outfit, that might not be the best outfit for your interview. Get to know the company where you are interviewing. For instance, I wouldn’t think twice about a candidate interviewing at our mobile application company wearing jeans and a trendy top. But, that may not be a good choice for a legal office. Bottom line, if you’re not sure what will make a good impression don’t be afraid to ask the hiring manager about the company dress code and what would be considered appropriate for your interview.
- Play good offense: Job candidates sometimes feel intimidated by the dynamic of an interview. If you go in thinking about your perceived shortcomings you’ll be playing defense. Be prepared to answer questions about career changes, gaps in your resume, and your skills. But, don’t focus your answers on things you think a hiring manager may worry about. Redirect their attention to things that will get them excited about what you can do for their company.
- Know your rights: Its not legal or appropriate for a hiring manager to ask you whether you have kids, are planning to have kids, if you’re married or anything else overly personal. If someone asks you these types of questions red flags should go up. But, don’t be overly defensive. You may choose to answer the question vaguely or politely dodge the question while steering the conversation to a more relevant topic. For instance: “I have a wonderful and supportive family. We haven’t talked about my volunteer work yet. I’d love to tell you more about the leadership skills I developed coordinating a local charity run.”
- Secret service: There are no laws preventing potential employers from asking about your military affiliation. I’ve talked to several spouses who are concerned about hiring discrimination due to the frequent moves that are known to accompany military service. So, the big question is: Should you disclose any details about your spouse’s career? You should know you aren’t obligated to say anything. It is perfectly appropriate to say, “My wife’s career has required us to move around a bit,” if a hiring manager asks why you’ve moved so often. If the follow up addresses future moves you can simply say, “We plan to stay in this area as long as we have good opportunities here.” I will advise, however, that you shouldn’t outright lie if an employer asks you about the military directly. You’ll be in a bad position if you end up taking a job with the company after lying and the stage will be set for distrust in your working relationships. Besides, it’s more than likely that you’ve gained some excellent and relevant skills through involvement with military organizations and your lifestyle. If the conversation moves in this direction try to bring it back to your skills and qualities and how they will serve you at this job.
- Highlight your assets: If you think you fall short of the skills needed for a position make sure to mention the less tangible qualities you bring to the table. Are you a hard worker? A quick learner? A tenacious taskmaster? A born leader? When I’m interviewing job candidates I have a skill set in mind. But, often what’s most important to me is whether that candidate will “fit” well in our organization. I’ve been known to recommend candidates who have a small gap in skills or experience because they have a “go-getter” attitude or would fit in wonderfully with our team. If someone is a good cultural fit and shows me they want to learn, grow their skill set, and are willing to work hard I think it makes sense to take a chance on them in order to bring in the right person for the job as opposed to a perfect skill set.
The Ball is in Your Court
- Does the shoe fit?: Research each company to which you are applying. It’s always good to walk into an interview having done your homework. Before you sit down across from a hiring manager make sure you have taken a look at the company literature and website. Familiarize yourself with the products and/or services offered by your potential employer. Look for a list of company values and beliefs, the mission statement, and information on founders (especially in a small company). This will tell you what qualities, not just skills, are important to fit in with the company culture. An awareness of the kind of person an employer is looking for can serve you just as well as an awareness of the skills they require. But it’s not all about them. Make sure this is a place YOU would want to work. You’ll be happier (and more likely to be hired and retained) if you apply to organizations that share your personal values.
- Volunteer: Job search not yielding results? Use your time off to volunteer for a cause or organization that you feel passionately about. The organization will benefit from your help and you will have a chance to hone and build on your skill set in order to strengthen your resume. I know a nurse at our current duty station who decided not to work during her family’s short tour here. Instead she’s using her skills to volunteer at a domestic violence shelter. She finds the work gratifying and she’s staying sharp professionally.
- Plan ahead: Employers aren’t going to come knocking on your door. If you know there is a move in your future and you’ll be looking for work start your research early. Figure out what you want to do and where before you arrive so that you’re not scrambling to make it come together. Proof your resume, write your cover letters, and set up your interviews before the moving truck drives off with your belongings.
- Telework: Over the years I’ve met more and more spouses taking their careers with them wherever they move. Telework may be an option for you if you have a great job and a good relationship with your employer. Think about whether your job lends itself to working from home: (a) Do you have the necessary equipment to complete work tasks outside of the office? (b) Is your work independent from your geographic location? (c) Are you disciplined enough to complete your work without team members and a manager looking over your shoulder? If you think it can be done, then approach your boss about working out of your home. When you’ve built up some social capital with an employer you may be surprised by what they will do to keep you on board.
See Our List of Helpful Resources in Part I of PCS Proof: Military Spouse Marketability
Adjacent Applications/ Call Dibs Director of Organizational Development, full time Navy wife of 7 years, and a mom of two boys (4 years & 11 mos) Heather has a M.S. in Psychology with a concentration in Industrial/Organizational Psych. She is involved with natural birthing and natural parenting communities including Holistic Moms Network, Mothering, and Monterey County Birth Network. She had a home birth with her second child after having a previous c-section. Heather and her family have been stationed at Naval Station Norfolk; NAVSUP WSS Philadelphia; NPS Monterey, CA; and next to Mechanicsburg, PA to the Supply Headquarters.