The Special Case of Military Spouses Returning to Work After a Career Break
By Carol Fishman Cohen
Co-founder, iRelaunch.com, Co-author, Back on the Career Track: A Guide for Stay-at-Home
Moms Who Want to Return to Work
Military spouses face specific challenges when attempting to resume careers after a career break.
Returning to work after years away is complicated enough, but the confluence of lengthy
overseas postings, having to function as a single parent when a spouse is deployed, and moving
every two to three years on top of the usual issues of lack of confidence, reviving old networks
and creating new ones, and figuring out what you really want to do can make the process even
more overwhelming. It’s no wonder why military spouses question their ability to make a
successful back to work transition even more than their civilian counterparts.
Unique Military Spouse Qualifications
Military spouses have unique qualifications to offer employers that tend to go unrecognized – by
the military spouse herself and the prospective employer. These qualifications include:
• Emotional Resilience – Military spouses are emotionally resilient because they have
had to deal with a spouse being away on lengthy military deployments, often with his/her
life at stake.
• Experience in Dealing with Uncertainty – Dealing with uncertainty about a spouse’s
whereabouts and safety, the timing and location of future postings, and maintaining the
well being of children through these transitions is a way of life for the military spouse.
Dealing with uncertainty is a qualification lacking in many job candidates at any life stage.
Employers valuing this quality should seek out military spouses for recruitment.
• Comfortable with Constant Transition - The business world is in a constant state of
flux. Transition is a way of life for military spouses and military spouses themselves take
for granted their own expertise in dealing with it.
• No Benefits Required - Military spouses have insurance benefits already, so these
benefits do not need to be part of their compensation package. Therefore, their overall
cost as an employee is lower than that of civilian counterparts. Ideally, this gap would not
be exploited by the employer, but instead used as a creative opportunity to offer other
benefits as part of the employment package.
Deterrents to Hiring Military Spouses
At the same time, hiring a military spouse can be problematic because of frequent moves.
• Moving every 2 to 3 years - The biggest issue in hiring military spouses is that their
posting in a single location often lasts only two to three years, and sometimes they
need to move on short notice. Some employers shy away from hiring military
spouses for this reason. However, with frequent job changes among non-military
employees becoming the norm, the loyalty of the military spouse to stay with an
employer for the entire length of the posting should be considered. Also, companies
with a national presence or the option for remote work could benefit by hiring a
military spouse if the person could transfer to another company office or work
remotely with each new posting.
Determining Readiness for Career Reentry
Determining readiness for career reentry may be trickier for military spouses than for their non-
military counterparts. This means military spouses may need to wait longer than non-military
spouses to relaunch their careers after a multi-year career break. This also means military
spouses need to be extra patient with themselves as they move forward in the process. Issues
delaying readiness include:
• Lack of a Support Network - Because of frequent moves, military spouses often do not
have time to develop friends and family support networks to turn to when their spouse is
away and they need coverage for going to work.
• At Home Responsibilities can be Overwhelming - Since military spouses bear the
brunt of the childcare and eldercare responsibilities alone, they may feel these
responsibilities too overwhelming to consider returning to work even if there is some sort
of support community in place.
Recommendations for Military Spouses
So what is the best strategy for military spouses wanting to relaunch a career?
• Take a Series of Baby Steps - Find career-relevant volunteer work (we call this
“strategic volunteering”) that can be done when one’s schedule permits, Take one class
at a time instead of enrolling in a more demanding program. Seek occasional consulting
work from time to time. The objective is to maximize current and relevant experiences,
so reference to these experiences can be made during informal networking, formal
interviewing and on resumes.
• Consider Employment with Global Employers - Global employers have offices in
many locations to which military spouses could transfer or from which they could possibly
work remotely. Some of the big accounting firms actually require their CPA's to switch
offices every few years in order to get broad client exposure.
• Seek Employment with a Staffing Firm such as Aquent or MomCorps. These
companies place employees in interim or part time positions that often convert to full time
positions. These firms have offices and opportunities across the U.S. In Aquent's case,
their reach is international as well. Aquent focuses on marketing and creative fields and
MomCorps focuses on a range of fields including accounting.
• Target “Military Friendly” Companies – Military Spouse Magazine released a list of the
top 10 Military Friendly companies in their June 2008 issue. They include Health Net,
USAA, Sunbelt Rentals, and West Corporation. For the entire list, see:
• Target Small to Mid-Sized Companies - Small to mid-sized companies are often thrilled
to hire high caliber employees who are returning from a career break, even for a two to
three year period.
• Develop Transferable Skills – Military spouses in the fields of human resources, IT,
nursing, sales, and teaching report an easier time finding employment after a transfer.
• The Rand Corporation study “Working Around the Military: Challenges of Military
Spouse Employment” by Margaret Harrell, et al is required reading on this topic.
• www.milspouse.com (for example, see this article on volunteering:
• Military Officers Association of America Military Spouse Blog by Sue Hoppin, Deputy
Director of Spouse Outreach for the MOAA:
• Sue Hoppin is also the co-author of soon to be released: A Family’s Guide to the
Military for Dummies -http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-
• http://militaryspousecoach.com/ the website of Krista Wells, The Military Spouse
Coach™. She also authored an article on Portable Professions in the August issue
of Military Spouse magazine (not available on line).
Carol Fishman Cohen is the co-author of the acclaimed career reentry book Back on the Career
Track: A Guide for Stay-at-Home Moms Who Want to Return to Work, and the co-founder of
iRelaunch, a company providing career reentry programming, events, and information to
employers, universities, organizations and to mid-career professionals in all stages of career
break. Carol recently spoke at the 2008 Joint Warfighting Convention Military Spouse Symposium
on the topic of returning to work after a career break. Contact Carol at ccohen@iRelaunch.com.