On June 24th I will be a guest on the Army Wives Network radio show and this post is written to provide strategies for military spouses seeking to maintain a career while contending with moves, deployments, separated families, unrelated education, and gaps in employment. Below are the top five concerns that military spouses face during the interview process and tips on how to address them before and during the interview.
1. Being or Appearing Overqualified
A lot of military spouses find themselves in this category by either having too much experience, education, or both for the position they are applying for. When an applicant has more years of experience than the job requires, it raises red flags for the employer, such as: Are you exaggerating your experience? Will you require more pay? Will you leave quickly for a better opportunity? To manage questions about being overqualified, consider the following techniques:
• Take salary off the table. Make it clear that you are flexible and that what you earned in the past is not relevant to your current job search. Share with the interviewer that you have many factors that impact your interest in the position.
• Address the potential concerns upfront. Bring the topic up first. Ask the interviewer if he or she has any concerns about you performing in the role, then highlight your accomplishments, flexibility, and ability to thrive in a team environment. State that you are looking to contribute and are pleased that you may bring more to the table than other candidates, which would allow you to hit the ground running.
• Explain your reasons. Tell the interviewer your reasons for being interested in the role, even though it appears that you are overqualified for it. Think this through beforehand so you’ll be prepared. Is it because the job will give you a good work-life balance? Is it because you will find it fulfilling to thrive in a role for which you have all the qualifications?
• Lighten your resume. Consider removing dates or positions from your resume so you don’t overwhelm the interviewer with your experience. You can share some of the relevant information during the interview after you have made a strong impression. If they ask you why you have done this, state that you didn’t think those experiences were relevant to the role, and you wanted to highlight your more recent experience.
• Be humble. Reassure the interviewer that although you are an experienced candidate, you realize that you have to prove it to each employer. State that you look forward to the opportunity to grow in the company but are comfortable starting in this position.
2. Gaps In Employment
Although this is less of an issue in the current economy, it is a challenge that military spouses face more than most. It is easy to explain employment gaps due to relocation by the military, but that does not address the main concern employers may have. They are looking for confirmation that you have remained up-to-date in your profession. Be prepared to answer industry questions to highlight your current industry knowledge. Show that you are so interested in your field that you found ways to apply your skills or read up on the current industry even while you were unemployed.
3. Frequent Relocation
Another concern of employers is the frequent relocating of military spouses. You need to be aware that their worry about relocation is that it will happen again, and you will have to leave your position if hired. If you know that you will be stationed for a period of time, share that. If asked how long you plan to be stationed, state, “The hope is 3 to 5 years, possibly longer.” I never advise lying, but by saying “hope” you remove any falsehood from your statement. If you are asked, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” talk only about your career goals as they relate to the company and the role, not about location, family status, or unrelated education planned.
4. Job or Career Hopping
Another result of frequent relocations might be the appearance that you don’t simply job hop, you career hop. In other words you have educational degrees that do not match your work experience, or you have multiple degrees and vast work experience that are not consistent with each other. This could indicate to an employer that you don’t know what you really want to do. A couple of ideas to handle these situations are:
• Create a targeted resume. Select the content that best suits the position you are targeting; highlight the skills, functions, and industries that are most applicable. Remember, you do not have to include every single job on your resume. Gaps are sometimes easier explained than hopping.
• Tell your story and connect the dots. Present your experience as a continuous progression during which you gained skills and experience along the way. For instance, you might explain a transition with, “I wanted to learn about customer service, so I took a job in …” Sometimes it isn’t obvious why you made certain decisions—help the interviewer understand the skills you’ve gained in each role and how they relate to the job you are now seeking.
5. Lacking Career Direction
The career hopping and employment gaps may lead an employer to view you as lacking career direction and willing to just take any job. Desperate jobseekers are not highly desired workers. Employers are looking for motivated workers that truly want to be working for that company, in that industry, in that role. If you lack career direction, take the time to figure out what you want to do so that you can commit to the position and the industry. Ask yourself what you would do if you had five million dollars in the bank. Think about the things you do for fun or because you want to, not because you have to. What do you volunteer for? Is there a career in that for you? Once you are clear on your passion, you can look at your skills and determine how they can be leveraged. You will also be more compelling in an interview if you can explain why you want to do a particular job. Let that enthusiasm and passion come through. Once you decide what you want to pursue, consider these ideas to help direct your career:
• Make a career plan for the next 2-5 years.
• Build industry experience by continuing to work or volunteer.
• Maintain a network of contacts. Keep in touch with the people you met at each base, school, and city.
• Get active and join local industry organizations such as the chamber of commerce.
• Be creative—if you can’t find the job you want in the industry you desire, look elsewhere. No nursing positions available at a hospital? Try the school, or a doctor’s office, or a nursing home, or even a service for home health aides.
If you have specific questions – maybe I can help. Ask me below or on my Facebook or Twitter pages. Good Luck!