Resume Improvement Tips for Military Spouses

resume job hunting
••• Getty Images/

Finding employment in today’s market not easy. For a military spouse, though, finding a position in your career of choices can be almost impossible. When developing a career path, military spouses generally don’t have the luxury of working in one city, state, or company to build tenure and a professional reputation. 

Many military spouses find themselves needing changing jobs far more frequently than they’d like — often after only one to three years. To make matters worse, they may also find themselves with gaps of six months to several years between jobs. The cost of childcare and the last of available employment around military installations complicates things even further. Bottom line: too many employers find that military spouse resumes are somewhat less than completely desirable.

In fact, recent studies have shown that the unemployment rate for the spouses of active duty servicemembers is staggeringly higher than that of their civilian counterparts. In addition, military spouses are often underemployed based on their education level and experience when compared to their civilian counterparts (meaning that they tend to be overqualified for the jobs they end up taking).

While it may seem like it’s impossible to correct this issue, there are ways a military spouse can better position himself or herself for a satisfying career with upward mobility.

Resume Formatting

The way you structure your resume can play a large role in that all-important first impression. Your lifestyle isn’t common, and your resume shouldn’t look like every other candidate’s. By taking a creative approach to the structure and formatting of your resume, you can better present your skills without stretching the truth to cover employment gaps or frequent moves.

Functional Resume Format
If you have a gap in your employment record, or you haven’t had a lot of experience in the job market, use a functional resume format. A functional resume puts the focus on your skills and life experience, rather than a chronological listing of your employment history.

An effective functional resume will include an objective, your profile, a summary of your skills, and professional experience based on skill set, not employers. Finish your resume with a brief listing (without dates) of your employment history and your education, and end it with any technical, language, or other unique skills you have. Also, be sure to include any awards and accolades as well.

Title Your Sections Accurately
As a military spouse, you may have as much or more volunteer experience as you do employment history. Each of those volunteer projects allowed you to work with a team, and either took advantages of some of your skills or taught you new ones. That’s why volunteer experience definitely belongs on your resume.

Unfortunately, employers don’t typically view volunteer experience as highly as traditional, paid experience. To keep yourself from looking like you’ve had less experience than you actually have, pay attention to your title. Instead of saying “Employment Experience” or “Employment History,” simply title your sections as “Experience.”

A Word on Timing
If your struggle lies in frequent job changes and moves, it’s a good idea to be honest with your employer. However, you can avoid looking like a short-timer by not listing the months on your work history. Sticking to years only will keep you from being tempted to lie about the dates.

Filling In the Gaps

What if you have years of empty space between jobs? What if your servicemember was stationed in a location where you couldn’t work in your field, or, possibly, any work at all? What if you couldn’t afford the childcare that would have allowed you to go back to work?

There are many reasons why you may have gaps in your employment. Fortunately, there are just as many ways to fill those holes in your resume with new opportunities.

If you want to stretch your teambuilding skills while supporting a good cause, volunteering is a great option. Many local nonprofits will have opportunities for you to help out on a specific project, or even to serve in a leadership role.

Whether you’re a public relations professional, an attorney, a childcare professional, or a skilled administrative support person, your strengths can easily translate to most nonprofit organizations. Do a little research and find an organization that supports a cause you are passionate about, and get to work — while you’re waiting for work.

If you spend an extended period of time within the organization, you can likely obtain a reference or two from the nonprofit’s leadership. This can help to validate the time to a potential employer, even if you weren’t paid for the work. Bottom line, you worked hard and made a positive impact. Who cares that you didn’t get paid?

Continuing Education
If you find yourself stuck in a job that doesn’t fit your career path, or you can’t find any kind of job (or at least one that pays more than you’d have to pay in childcare), consider going back to school. This is an especially good option for spouses stationed overseas or in remote locations.

Today’s digital environment has opened many doors for military spouses to get their degrees anywhere in the world. If you find yourself out of reach of a good local school, there are many reputable online programs. Many prominent state and private colleges now offer certain degrees entirely online.

There are two big benefits to going back to school (or finishing what you may have started years ago). First, you’re gaining new skills and knowledge by attending classes — and you’ll have the time to truly focus on your studies and excel. Second, employers are less likely to view an employment gap unfavorably if you were attending school at the time.

Remember, your servicemember won’t be in the military forever. After retirement, you’ll have the opportunity to really put down roots in a great career. Effectively using your time in the military can greatly improve your chances of success after you’re back in the civilian world.