This post was originally posted on LinkedIn Pulse in 2015. Unfortunately, many of the employment challenges discussed have yet to be effectively alleviated within the military community. It’s my hope that through continued advocacy and awareness, military spouses and caregivers will be economically valued and no longer discriminated against in the competitive job market.
Did you know that a sector of the military community is 90% jobless or underemployed?
Did you know this sector earns 38% less than their civilian counterparts?
Did you know that even those with doctorate experience unemployment of 15.56%?
Meet the Military Spouse: a dedicated individual that pledges loyalty and devotion to the brave men and women in uniform. The military spouse commits to frequent relocation, spouse absence for months to years at a time, foregoing professional opportunities that conflict with service demands, and is often left to pick up the pieces where subpar government programs leave off.
With hundreds of thousands of OEF/OIF veterans transitioning from active duty to civilian life, military spouses are charged with providing their family financial security during these critical years of transition. How can they accomplish this economic necessity with a 90% jobless/underemployment rate looming over their professional pursuits?
Don’t Say the “M-word”!
“Whatever you do, don’t say ‘military spouse’,“ an executive headhunter instructed, as I prepared for one of my first MBA job interviews. “I mean it. Don’t say anything about military or veteran anything if you want a chance at this.”
Having invested significant money and time into my advanced education, I felt landing a traditional MBA job (like every other non-military graduating classmate of mine had) was a given.
The lifestyle demands of my spouse’s military service had prevented traditional investments into networks, career, and real estate that characterizes early investments of civilian professionals, leaving our immediate financial future dependent upon my ability to develop a financially rewarding career post-graduation. I’d done my research; I’d selected an advanced degree with a promising starting salary and specialized in one of the most in-demand business niches of 2015. I’d compiled an impressive project portfolio characteristic of a 10+ year industry veteran, averaging responses of over 25% on promotional efforts, and representing four of the most promising industries: agriculture, healthcare, technology, and service.
I (thought) I was set-up; had no idea my status as a military spouse would be a “deal breaker” for Corporate America.
A Typical Job Interview
Interviewing for a Marketing Director position with a well-known Kansas City-based firm was quite enlightening.
Graduating with my MBA from a well-ranked school, and touting an extensive portfolio stretching from small business to Silicon Valley startups, I was much more qualified than the recent college grads with “bartender” as only real job experience presented as my competition.
I’d been advised by headhunters to remove much of my veteran-focused volunteer work and publications from my resume, in order to “package” my presentation as a “more typical” job candidate. I removed the majority of the philanthropy, just leaving select pro bono fundraising and public relations projects I’d completed for nonprofits serving the military community. Here’s how things went down…
“So what’s up with the military projects?” the Agency Director (now COO) asked.
“What do you mean?” I replied.
“Why is it so important to you?” she restated.
“My husband’s served overseas, and the sacrifices of his service mean a great deal to me. I’m very active in supporting the military community; primarily by using my skills to increase awareness and raise funds,” I replied.
“Ok. So, is your husband still in the service?” she asked.
“Why does that matter?” I replied.
“Well, military people move all the time, and I can’t invest time into hiring you only to have you up and leave us whenever your husband moves again. That really leaves our company in a bad situation,” she responded.
“I don’t think this is a very ethical way of conducting this interview,” I stated, taken aback by her lack of patriotism and professionalism.
“Well, I think that’s all I needed. We’ll be in touch,” she curtly replied.
I never heard back.
According to LinkedIn, one the recent college grads with no military affiliation, no MBA, and six-years mimosa-mixing experience got the job.
Military Spouse Unemployment is a National Epidemic
Unfortunately, I’m not the only highly educated military spouse encountering such dismal career opportunities.
I run into military spouses at conferences all across the U.S. echoing professional plight. We’re easy to spot—adaptable, gregarious, well-traveled, and the epitome of the term “Connector”. Despite graduating with Masters and Doctorate degrees, many of today’s spouses are struggling to just land “that entry job”, thanks to the unpatriotic (and, in my opinion, “unethical”) position of many hiring managers, like that of the Agency Director described above.
In ABC News’ article, military spouse Michelle Aikmen stated, “As soon as [employers] find out you’re connected to the military, the conversation is over. Their brain automatically goes to, ‘I’m not going to waste my time.’” Aikman eventually became so frustrated with career roadblocks, that she abandoned her engineer pursuits and began helping military families navigate career challenges full-time.
Another military spouse/marketing colleague of mine describes her job hunting experience:
“Every job interview I’ve had is focused on ‘why I moved so much’. If I don’t tell them I’m a military spouse, I have no way to explain four cross-country moves in three years! Even though I communicate that my husband is transitioning out of active duty and we won’t be moving again, there’s still the military stigma that no HR Director has been able to move past.”
My colleague eventually just gave up on finding a normal job and started freelancing from home, earning less than 10 percent of median earnings for her profession.
An Effective Career Solution
My spouse completed his active duty service requirements and we both hit the job market as (what we thought) were “civilians”. Turns out, we still encountered “military spouse” and “veteran” job outlook statistics. After a combined list of over 300 rejections, my spouse and I plunged into entrepreneurship to create jobs for ourselves. While eating Ramen Noodles and Mac N Cheese, driving 20-year-old vehicles, and living in a one-room apartment was rather humbling for an accomplished B-school grad and decorated war hero, we’re beginning to see some reward for our gutsy career moves. One of my most treasured benefits of such entrepreneurial ventures is the freedom to continue to raise awareness and resources necessary to more effectively address the pressing economic issues members of the military community continue to face all across our country.
Many service members and their spouses are unable to address such professional challenges in the same manner; instead, they are forced to endure economic hardship, personal and professional insult, and unable to experience the American Dream they have sacrificially invested years of lives protecting. When service defending our country’s freedoms destroys the opportunity to pursue professional futures experienced by members outside the military community, a massive cancer is present in our current society.
What’s the solution? HIRE them.
Hire members of the military community—prior service, reservists, military spouses—offer them a job, a gig, a connection. Professional opportunities on the civilian side can alleviate many of the challenges transitioning service members and their loved ones currently face, including: mounting debt, backlogged benefits, subpar healthcare, and increasing suicide. By providing the military community with professional opportunities, we are able to provide solutions via community, financial, healthcare, and stability.
I bet you know a member of the military community. Maybe it’s a relative, a neighbor, a temp worker, or even a fellow yogi at the gym.
Ask them how you can help them accomplish their career goals.
Make an introduction.
Help them build their professional network. Invite them to attend your organization events.
Invest in their entrepreneurial initiatives.
Offer them a JOB.
For a community that’s already sacrificed so much for our country’s freedom, how can we accept the 90% jobless and underemployed rate associated with military spouses and its’ subsequent effects on our veterans’ future?