Hanna Forbes is on a job hunt.
Forbes and her husband moved to Quantico from Okinawa, Japan, three months ago. She was one of 300 military spouses who gathered Thursday at The Clubs at Quantico for the Military Spouse Business Alliance Hiring Fair and Career Forum.
But Forbes, like thousands of military spouses across the U.S., faces a unique challenge. Her resume is filled with gaps in employment, not because she can’t keep a job, but because this is her 15th move in 26 years.
According to Laura Dempsey, director of the Military Spouse Employment Program for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the transitory nature of a military lifestyle can, at times be a deterrent to employers.
“There are employers that still see [gaps in employment] as a liability and are afraid you’re going to move,” Dempsey said.
The Military Spouse Employment Program is working to change that. They want to educate employers about the benefits of hiring military spouses and teach spouses how to turn what may seem like setbacks, into selling points.
The program is part of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s, “Hiring Our Heroes” initiative to help veteran and military spouse job seekers find employment.
For spouses, it’s a much needed boost. The unemployment rate for military spouses is at 26 percent – more than three times the national average of 8.1 percent.
Despite bleak numbers, Dempsey said military spouses would be surprised at their competitive edge. However, to maximize their value to employers they need to learn how to sell the volunteer work and intangible skills that often come with being a military spouse, she added.
“Having more than one job and having gaps in your career actually enhances your skills and rounds you out,” Dempsey said. “We know spouses who have gaps in their resume aren’t just doing nothing, they’re volunteering for the most part.”
Dempsey said nearly 70 percent of military spouses volunteer but most omit it on their resume, and if they do list volunteer experiences, it’s in a form that employers don’t understand.
“You can say you’re a spouse club president, employers think that’s a nice social activity, but what they don’t know is you might have a budget of thirty thousand, putting on events for 100-plus people as an event planner,” Dempsey said.
In addition, Kevin Schmiegel, the executive director of Hiring Our Heroes, recommends highlighting intangible characteristics.
“Focus on the talents that a military spouse has in general like, incredible work ethic, ability to work well in teams, strength and resilience,” Schmiegel suggested. “What they have to do is relate their whole experience as spouses and how it can benefit employers.”
The job fair featured more than 40 employers; it also included a career forum, where participants could receive on-the-spot resume and interviewing critiques. Schmiegel said their plan this year is to hold 20 hiring fairs exclusively for spouses across the nation.
Their ultimate goal is to help every military spouse find employment, but even if they don’t, Dempsey said she’s confident that the job fair will make a difference for those who attend.
“Even if they don’t get a job, they’ll come away with something that helps them build their brand and plan a career,” Dempsey assured.
The next career fair will be Nov. 2 at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington, D.C.
To view a schedule of upcoming career fairs, visit Hiring Our Heroes.
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