Tips for military spouses returning to work

by Carol Fishman Cohen

This week I'm speaking at the Military Officers Association of America Spouse Symposium on the topic of Career Reentry for Military Spouses. This Spouse Symposium is part of the larger Joint Warfighting Convention, which is being held at the Virginia Beach Convention Center near Norfolk , VA. Nearly 3,000 people are attending, and I'm sure there will be demonstrators there protesting the war because defense contractors are involved in this conference as well as the military. However, the difficulties faced by military spouses relaunching careers after returning from lengthy overseas postings or after moving every few years rise above the political divide over the Iraq War. Here are some tips for military spouses resuming careers after a career break:

QUALIFICATIONS: You have unique qualifications to offer employers as a military spouse. Make sure you highlight these areas of expertise when you discuss your strengths:

  • Emotional Resilience
You are emotionally resilient because you have had to deal with your spouse being away on lengthy military deployments, often with his/her life at stake.

  • Experience in Dealing with Uncertainty

You are constantly dealing with uncertainty about your spouse's whereabouts and safety, and the timing and location of your next posting. Dealing with uncertainty is a qualification lacking in many job candidates at any life stage.

  • Comfortable with Constant Transition
The business world is in a constant state of flux. Transition is a way of life for military spouses and many take for granted their expertise in dealing with it.

  • No Benefits Required
Military spouses have benefits, so benefits do not need to be part of your compensation
package. Use this as a bargaining chip when negotiating terms of your employment.

READINESS: Relaunch readiness may be trickier for you than for non-military spouses. This means you may need to wait longer than a non-military spouse to relaunch your career. This also means you need to be extra patient with yourself as you move forward in the process.

  • 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 are Overwhelming
Since you are bearing the brunt of the childcare and eldercare responsibilities alone, you may feel these responsibilities are too overwhelming to consider returning to work even if you did have some sort of support community in place.


  • Take a Series of Baby Steps: 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.
Find relevant volunteer work that can be done when your schedule permits, Take one class at a time instead of enrolling in a more demanding program. Seek occasional consulting work from time to time.

  • Consider employment with global employers
Global employers have offices in many locations to which you could transfer or from which you 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.

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.

  • Small to mid-sized companies are often interested in relaunchers.
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.

Carol Fishman Cohen and Vivian Steir Rabin are the co-authors 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-founders 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 will be signing books at the Virginia symposium at booth # 913.

For more information on Relaunching, for military or non-military spouses, see iRelaunch and check out Back on the Career Track.
Military Spouse Photo Credit: