If you’ve never run an internet search for the phrase “military spouse resume,” give it a go. You’ll be swimming in articles offering tips for a winning military spouse resume. Now, if you are a janitor’s spouse, a CPA’s spouse, a biologist’s spouse, or —heck — even just a single person, and you search for resume help, you’ll probably come up short. To my knowledge, military spouses are the only group receiving specific resume guidance just because of their spouse’s career.
Except, we aren’t. Ever read one of those articles promising the tips for a winning military spouse resume? The advice is not remotely exclusive to military spouses. We aren’t the only population with resume gaps, we aren’t the first to include volunteer work on a professional resume, and we certainly aren’t the only ones changing jobs every few years (though we might have the best excuse).
Resume writing (and job hunting in general) is zero out of five stars for everyone, regardless of their partner’s profession. It’s part personal history test, part strategy — writing for what you think the hiring authority wants to see.
But somewhere between the white gloves and military spouse employment revolution, someone cast the military spouse resume as complicated. We were told not to disclose our status as military spouses because it could lead to hiring discrimination. I mean, who would want to hire the qualified military spouse knowing they’d just leave in three years, when you could hire the average applicant who will never leave? (Please tell me you sensed the sarcasm in that last sentence.)
Flash forward to 2022. We now have a federal military spouse hiring preference, employment partnerships, spouse license reciprocity legislation, and — cherry on top — COVID-19 showed all the skeptics that personal and professional lives can actually coexist. Cannot thank all the children in the background of office Zoom calls enough for humanizing employment at every level. We can now safely say there is no need to mask your status as a military spouse on your resume. And if you’re like me, you’re thinking, “Thank goodness!” Because I couldn’t hide it if I tried.
The great John Steinbeck once said, “Now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.” “Good” in this case means allowing ourselves to be strong candidates on paper based on all our accomplishments whether or not they give away your military spouse status, especially in those occasional employment gaps. Let’s get into it:
The Resume Gap: I said it before, but it’s worth repeating. We don’t own the resume gap. Anyone who has ever left the office to be a stay-at-home parent or start a business or to wanderlust across the globe has a resume gap. Anyone who has ever been laid off has a resume gap. It is not unique to military spouses. Don’t let it intimidate you into not pursuing a fulfilling career (and, on the flip side, don’t let it intimidate you into taking a job that isn’t fulfilling just to avoid the gap).
No matter the why behind the gap, find an experience to fill the void — it doesn’t have to be a huge time commitment either. Volunteer somewhere that can be connected back to your lane of expertise. Take a class. Sit on a board for something.
Obviously, this isn’t helpful if you’re looking back at a resume gap. If that’s the case, let the experience around the gap show the skills and experience needed for the job you’re after.
The Spouse Club or Base Organization: Should you include the spouse club on your resume? It depends. Did you just join for Bunco? If so, probably not going to help your employment chances. But did you hold a leadership position in the club? Did you manage people or finances or plan major events? Were there any major accomplishments during your term? And do they apply to what you’re applying for? If yes, then include it!
The Volunteer: I reviewed a resume recently for a friend, and she had not included any volunteer work at all. Contrast that with my resume that is 50% philanthropic work. I know not every resume reviewer and prospective employer will agree with me on this, but experience is experience. Including philanthropic work not only shows that you give back to your community, but it also shows that you don’t just work for a paycheck — you do a job because you genuinely care about the cause. List current and relevant volunteer experience — period.
The Haiku: We all started somewhere. I’m pretty sure I included my high school job of ice cream scooper on my resume for my first “real” job post-college just for the sake of reaching the end of the page. And that’s OK. When you need to demonstrate that you possess certain skills for a job, include whatever you need to from your career thus far (paid or unpaid) to show you’re qualified. Did that job as an ice cream scooper in a tourist hot spot during the summer prepare me for my first job? You better believe it. Communication skills, performing under pressure (that post-dinner rush that had a line out the door was no joke), customer service, money management and so much more.
It’s awkward to brag on ourselves — one of the many reasons why resume writing is hard. But you have to draw out the applicable skills in order to successfully promote yourself to potential employers.
The Novel: To be clear, I no longer list my job from 20 years ago (gasp, gulp, palm sweat … 20 years?!) as an ice cream scooper on my resume. In fact, I’ve worked long enough in the content management, public affairs and legislative affairs lanes that I no longer even list my former middle school teaching jobs — not because they weren’t challenging (because they were absolutely the hardest jobs I’ve ever had), but because I have more targeted and recent experience to say what I need to say on paper. When you have more experience, be more selective.
The Hodgepodge: Ever look at your resume and wonder what you’re trying to accomplish? Like the theme is that there is no theme? That is OK, my friends. It’s OK because the job title and the employer are just two parts of what you’re going to include about the job. You are also going to list what your responsibilities were, what skills you used and any accomplishments. In the same way the short resume is temporary, the “little bit of everything” resume is temporary too. Eventually, you’re going to see a trend, and in the meantime, pull out the key components that will connect you to the job you’re seeking.
The Point: The absolute most important rule of resume writing is tailoring it for the job you want. You do this by reading the job description of the job you’re applying for. Print it out. Highlight the job expectations and required skills. Then, think back in your professional past (to be clear this is education, philanthropic and paid experience). Match what you’ve done to what the employer is looking for. Make sure the experience you list clearly demonstrates that you check those boxes.
If you can do that, your qualifications will speak for themselves — which is the whole point of the resume after all, since you aren’t there to explain in person. Focus on what you’ve done and drop that undue stress of your military spouse status. If the reviewer can piece it together because you’ve only worked in small base towns no one has ever heard of, good for him. If you get passed over for an interview simply because they suspect you’re a military spouse, you don’t want to work there anyway. And, if you get offered a job, it will be — and should be — because of your own qualifications, not your marital status.