“We were having a great conversation–there was back and forth, like a ping pong match–but way cooler.
We talked about our educational similarities, and the Director said she was impressed by my variety of work experiences. We discussed my ideas and qualifications, and I could tell that the company was a place that could use my energy.
Then, at about 2:30–I remember the moment because it seemed like time stopped and all I could hear was the sound of my heart pounding in my chest–the interview took a drastic turn.
My demeanor, my excitement for this interview, my hopes of getting the job, and ultimately my entire world, came crashing down with the innocent asking of one question, ‘So…what ultimately brought you to Fayetteville?'”
I hear stories like the one above time and time again. What varies, however, is the way military spouses choose to respond–from offering way too much information about every move and relocation, to apologizing, to not really saying anything at all.
Though most of us know that interview questions about our military affiliation or marital status are illegal, often it’s those seemingly innocent inquiries that trip us up. To an average job seeker, a simple question about your choice of residence would be a welcome opportunity to talk without fear of answering incorrectly–but to a military spouse–it can seem like an underhanded way of asking about our marital status.
This is not to say that all interviewers are out to get military spouses or are sneakily developing trick questions to fool us into saying things we don’t want to. Ultimately, hiring managers are just trying to find the best fit for their company. Think about if you were doing the hiring for your company. It would be your responsibility to the company and the rest of the workers to ask the questions that help select the right candidate.
As the person on the other end of the dialogue, however, it’s your responsibility to demonstrate, in just a few short moments, why it doesn’t matter what brought you to Duty Station X, but instead what you are going to do now that you are here.
So how can you do that?
Reframe Your Thinking Before the Interview
First, understand that the interviewer is not your enemy! When you look at them as someone holding all of the power, you immediately and unconsciously put yourself in the defense position.
Instead, consider again what you would ask if you were interviewing a potential employee. Or, think of a time when you actually were hiring someone–it could be a babysitter, a plumber, an electrician, a tutor or a hair dresser! What made you decide to hire that person for their services? How could those same qualities apply to the positions you are seeking? How can you then demonstrate the skills that you in fact desired?
I was shocked when a military spouse told me she was advised by an employee at a trusted career counseling center to lie about her marital status. No matter how much you want or need a job, I do not ever advise lying. Even if you land the job, you have to deal with how to address the fact you are actually married once you start the job. Your employers will find out about your military affiliation and you will be known as untrustworthy or lacking in integrity.
Redirect the Conversation
This is a great strategy that comes with practice. After you’ve answered the question, you frame why your relocation is a good thing, what it has done for you as a candidate and how it will impact the company you are interviewing with. The key is not wasting time on over-explaining or apologizing for your situation, and instead spending the valuable time you have on what your travels have taught you.