by Brittany P. Bolin, Guest Contributor
Personal opinions vary on the subject of short-timer stigma attached to military spouses in the workplace.
Some military spouses feel there is no stigma if their professional interactions are handled in a specific manner while others share stories about times when a military affiliation hindered their job search or professional growth.
The short-timer stigma may be a simple misunderstanding of military spouses.
The company seeks an employee who will be a payoff on their training investment – an overall capable and reliable worker – but they may have misconceptions concerning military spouses and what they add to the company. Examples of worries that may be on the minds of potential employers include:
- Little predictability in when a military member may PCS
- Lack of reliability in maintaining a daily schedule due to outside-of-work responsibilities (Ex: child care or household appointments/emergencies)
- Lack of real commitment to the company’s future or success
These concerns are not solely positioned onto the military spouse employee pool. Often, these may be the cause for not hiring younger workers, single parents or even parents with more than one child. Though it may be unmerited, these apprehensions are often present for potential employees to navigate; therefore, this article will examine how military spouses may accomplish their career goals by addressing these short-timer concerns directly.
How To Overcome The Stigma Of Short Timer Attached To Military Spouses In The Workplace
Overcoming Short-Timer Stigma While Networking
Economic research conducted by Glassdoor identified employee referrals as the most successful method for obtaining a job offer. Knowing someone’s work ethic first-hand may get a person the job over an even better interview.
Networking is crucial to overcoming the short-timer stigma.
Hiring Our Heroes – In Gear Career for Military Spouses has in-person networking chapters across the United States and internationally. Through these local chapters military spouses can meet and learn about the local job market.
LeanIn offers “circles” of women who share similar interests and can meet in their city. Get active in local nonprofit organizations, chambers of commerce, professional associations, churches, children’s school PTA or athletic booster club, or the base spouse group. Pick what interests you and start connecting with others.
Life may be crazy when you are juggling moving trucks or new schools, but remember you’re building a reliable reputation with new acquaintances, one of whom may be the next person putting in a good word for you for that coveted future interview.
Now isn’t the time to break appointments, cancel lunches via text message or not show up at an organization meeting despite your RSVP to attend.
Overcoming Short-Timer Stigma While Interviewing
Interview questions and answers are hot topics in today’s military spouse social media world. A summary of those pertaining to short-timer worries follows, with sample responses offered by professionals experienced military spouses.
The Question – “What brings you to this area?”
Company’s concern: The company wants to see that you are reliable and they’re curious as to why you’ve moved. Your resume shows various locations; this is an effort to understand who you are and if you’ll stay for an extended time.
Human relations professionals and military spouses offer different responses to this job interview question. Many say, “My spouse’s career brought us here” while others caution not to mention spouses (or wear wedding rings or other family oriented jewelry) during the first interview, instead responding, “I moved here to be closer to family and friends.”
In any case, choose what makes you feel comfortable while keeping in mind the company’s effort is to establish your reliability.
Realize what the company knows about you; for example, if the interview results from networking with previous acquaintances, coworkers, another military spouse, or military-affiliated job event, the interviewer likely knows you are a military spouse.
Additionally, if your public social media profiles have military-related pictures or information (even organizations you follow), your military affiliation may be obvious. Many organizations Google potential employees, making various military “links” possible to find.
Questions About Gaps In Employment
Company’s concern: First, they want to know you’re up-to-date on the industry. Second, they’re interested in how you remained up-to-date, in essence, understanding your personal drive regarding knowledge of your career field even when not employed.
Here are a few strategies for how to answer this question.
By focusing your resume on previous positions specifically in this industry or by creating a skills-based resume, you may sidestep this interview question altogether. Your discussion can center on your continued industry knowledge and skills.
Military spouse JD Collins of A Semi-Delicate Balance offered a reader this response, “My family and I decided that it was in our best interests to be fiscally responsible during that time period. I chose to be temporarily absent from the workforce, but I still worked on my improving my skills such as (customer service, admin, communication, etc.). I’m ready to rejoin the workforce, re-energized and ready to contribute my time and talent to this company.”
Career coach Michelle Tillis Lederman recommended that military spouses to be prepared with answers to industry questions, showing you remained in the know and applied your skills even while away. Perhaps discussing webcasts you viewed, volunteer work in your skill set, or continued membership in professional associations may help your response.
Questions About Career/Job Hopping
Company Concern: Similar to the topics above, the company may be addressing your reliability (read: ambition to stay at their company for an extended time) and actual interest and/or knowledge in the industry.
The Bureau of Labor and Statistics’ 2014 Employee Tenure Summary supplies a great statistic for this conversation. BLS found the average time spent with a company for those ages 25-34 is 3 years. For all age groups, the average is 4.6 years.
While some military spouses may only be at a duty station for 3 years, others are now in 4-year tours, making this stat work in our favor by showing potential employers we’re not vastly different in time spent at a job than our civilian counterparts.
To address industry jumps, Michelle Tillis Lederman suggested using a tailored resume. Use this to explain transitions by focusing on your desire to learn and acquire additional skills by answering, “I wanted to learn more about (xyz), so I took a job in _____.” Continue stating how you’ll apply that past knowledge in this job.
If long-term reliability is the underlying question, and if your status as a military spouse has been discussed, Donna Huneycutt, a lawyer and the Executive Vice President of Wittenberg Weiner Consulting, LLC offers the answer, “I have 3 years to do something really meaningful here professionally and I’m very excited about it.”
Michelle Tillis Lederman said to steer the discussion to your career plans and goals for the next 5 years, applying them to this particular company.
Questions About The Daily Schedule And Time Commitment
In Gear Career said this interview question may pop up: “Do you have responsibilities outside of work that will prevent you from getting the job done?” meaning can you be committed to your daily work schedule without constant interruption?
Remember interviews often balance around commonalities between the interviewer and yourself. You may have mentioned that you too have kids in elementary or that Saturday you baked cupcakes for a soccer fundraiser. Now the interviewer wants to know you can handle your personal and professional lives simultaneously.
In response, Donna Huneycutt suggested assuring the interviewer you have an excellent support system arranged at home, and that you’re organized, reliable and responsive.
In conclusion, there is one final piece of the puzzle that requires strong consideration – your satisfaction in the proposed job. Job satisfaction has a different meaning to each employee; for some, satisfaction comes with holding a specific position or title while for others it may result from flexible time schedules or positive co-worker interactions. This is a personal judgment, but one to give thought to before accepting a job offer.
Think about how the company’s reaction to your status as a military spouse may affect your work environment. If negative, are you prepared to discuss it with HR? Would you need to keep conversations with coworkers simplistic to avoid information regarding your military affiliation? If so, would that weigh on you too much or is it an easy situation for you to handle?
These are personal decisions that rely heavily on your respective feelings and situation. Reflect and make the best-informed choice that works for you. Best of luck following your career path.
Have you faced the short-timer stigma as a working military spouse? Please share ways you’ve successfully navigated this issue in your workplace.
Brittany is an Air Force wife, new mom to an adorable chubby baby girl, and full time travel junkie. Fueled by her love of writing and traveling, she attended Texas A&M University (go Aggies, Whoop!) and received a BA in Communication and MS in Tourism. Nowdays she and her family fit in as much travel across Europe as possible during their overseas tour.