It’s So Damn Hard to Have a Career as a Military Spouse

As an army wife, I’ve already made plenty of sacrifices. I uprooted my life, left my family and friends, and moved to a city I loathe (sorry, Clarksville) to be with the man I love. I’ve dealt with a 9-month deployment and a tireless training schedule that means I saw my husband about 8 out of the past 24 months.

Aaron & I when he returned from his 9-month deployment in Iraq.

It’s not a glamorous or romantic life, despite what Hollywood and even my personal Instagram may perceive. You don’t see me eating dinner alone, waiting on an unanswered text to hear he’s okay, or sobbing on the couch because every part of my day went wrong and there’s no one there to hug me and tell me it’ll be alright.

I do make a lot of sacrifices (all military spouses do), and fortunately, my career does not have to be one of them. I’m a Content Marketing Manager for a software company based out of Glastonbury, CT — and I’m fortunate enough to work remotely, and take my job (and career) wherever the army takes us. This year it is Ft. Campbell. Next year we’re off to Ft. Benning for just a few months. And then, who knows? My boss has always been extremely understanding of the army’s unpredictable nature, and I am eternally grateful for him, my job, and the company I work for.

Co-workers and I at our annual user conference last summer.

However, I’m not writing this blog to give career advice, or to provide other Military Spouses (MILSOs) with “tips” on pursuing your career. Because unfortunately, my situation is uncommon. Like…reallllyyy uncommon. Unfortunately, a large majority of military spouses are forced to sacrifice their careers at one point or another. And in an time where women, in particular, have more opportunities than ever before, it’s extremely unfortunate that so many of us have to give up what we love to be with the person we love.

How is this possible? Well, of course finding a job isn’t necessarily hard. The military gives MILSOs plenty of opportunities to work on post, and there’s plenty of local jobs that pay minimum wage. But neither of those are any place for someone with a four-year degree who has a dream and a career they want to pursue.

You see, there’s a BIG difference between a job and a career, and here is why it is so damn hard to have a career as a military spouse.

No One Wants to Hire Us.

I’ll be the first to admit that I was slightly judgemental of the number of amount of unemployed army spouses that I met when I moved to Ft. Campbell.

Why don’t these women work? How can they expect me to attend a coffee meeting at 11:00am? Why do all the events take place during the day? Why does everyone always look like they are having so much FUN while I am working?

While yes, there are a good amount of military spouses who don’t work by choice, many of us are unemployed because we are blacklisted by good, local employers.

It’s a tale as old as time: the inevitable PCS (relocation from one military base to another). No one wants to hire military spouses because its unknown how long we’ll be here, and no wise company will invest dollars in training, someone, they know could leave in six months. A bad hire can cost a company a lot of money, and unfortunately, companies don’t want the risk. And I completely understand that.

But what employers don’t realize is that they are missing out on a workforce of men and women who are self-starters, that have unmatched qualities of loyalty, patience, independence, dedication and tireless hard work. We have to have these qualities as MILSOs. We would crumble in our personal lives without them.

“I’ve encountered so many work environments that, upon learning that I am a military spouse, immediately turn up their noses. They know that I can never be in it for the long-haul — I’m temporary (not by choice), and they are going to have to start the hiring process again soon. What they don’t get is that I might be one of their best candidates for hire because of who I am, my work ethic, my degree, and knowledge —I’m instantly written off just because of my husband’s job. That never happens to anyone else but us military wives. With this last PCS, I applied for fifty-two job openings. Fifty-two. But the reason there were so many applications filled out on my part, is because we cannot be picky. I can’t stress that enough. For all the reasons I previously mentioned and more, most of the time you are going to have to throw your resume at everything and take what sticks. You may not get many options to choose from in the end; sometimes you take the only job that will hire you, because it’s what you need to do. For me, as an RN, it looks really bad to have gaps in my work history — I never want to have an un-excusable period of time where I just didn’t work. Saying “oh I just couldn’t find a job” isn’t going to cut it in the healthcare field. So for me, I dropped being picky and I worked wherever would take me.” – Bethany Hamby, Ft. Campbell

We Have to Give Up Our Dream Jobs.

Many military spouses have four-year degrees. Some of them, MBAs. These are intelligent and driven women who end up taking whatever job they can get just to avoid a major gap on their resume and contribute to household bills. And because we give up these “dream jobs,” many of us lose out on the ability to gain experience to level up in our career.

We get stuck.

“I gave up my dream job teaching in Washington to move to Ft. Bragg (NC) with my husband. I’m currently applying to teach online because we’re only here for three more months, before we go to Ft. Sill (OK) for 6 months…and we’re not sure where we will be after that. All this moving every few months makes it very hard to get a steady teaching job with a contract.” – Noelle Bradburn, Ft. Bragg

We Take Pay Cuts (In More Ways than One).

You won’t find many military posts/bases located adjacent to well-paying cities. (For example, Ft. Campbell is pretty close to Nashville, but you’re looking at a 2-3 hour commute roundtrip if you work in downtown.) And for those looking for work in Louisiana, Oklahoma, Kansas or El Paso…the chances of finding a well-paying job in your career are really slim.

So, by proxy, even if we end up working in a career or job we like, it is most likely going to pay less than a previous job just because of our unfortunate geographic locations. And of course, you can argue that cost of living is less, but success in the 9-5 corporate world is often defined by job titles and salaries, and taking a cut will never like moving up the corporate ladder.

“I left two teams and companies I loved in Orlando, FL to follow my husband to Clarksville, TN. I had to move here, alone, while my husband was in Arizona training because I had to start the job immediately — which meant I had to find a house, and live in a totally new city by myself until he returned. In addition, I took a huge pay cut and horizontal career step, as well as leaving a much-less competitive and saturated market for my photography business. But trust me, choosing him, not the army, is worth it.” -Whitney, Ft. Campbell, KY

Whitney owns a photography business in Clarksville, TN — a highly saturated market — so she has to continue to pursue two careers instead of focusing on the one she loves. Check her out:

Certifications Don’t Always Transfer.

Social workers, nurses, teachers, hair-dressers…they all take exams in their state to take the next step in their career. However, those certifications don’t always transfer from one state to another, which means a MILSO either has to re-take the exam and/or pay to transfer their certification to another state. Or, they have to do something else. Regardless, it makes pursuing the career you love and went to school for, extremely difficult to pursue.

“When I first moved to Pensacola, FL, I had a difficult time getting interviews. It took me about four months to find the job I currently have, and it’s not full time. I have looked for full-time jobs, but haven’t had any luck because there isn’t a huge job market for social work here. My social work license in MA doesn’t transfer to FL, so that’s another barrier. I’ve gained a lot of skills at the job I found, but my fear is that finding a job will continue to be difficult as we move.” – Rachael Dore, Marine Corps Unit, Pensacola, FL

Even If We Get Jobs in Our Career…They Progress Much Slower.

For some military wives (like me), we find flexible companies who hire remote employees. Or, we somehow manage to job-hop from location to location, slowly but surely working our way up the corporate ladder.

However, this still poses its own set of issues, as remote and temporary employees often fear job security and have trouble being promoted internally because of their lack of in-office experience at a single job.

“When I moved from Baltimore to Tennesee, my boss asked me if I wanted to work from home. It’s a great set up as far as flexibility and pay, but there is one big issue: I am stuck. I can’t move into another position because it’s not a guarantee a boss in another department will accept a remote employee. My company also rotates positions every three years, and I fear my next boss may not want an employee that works from home. And then who knows where will we PCS next. Like what if we go to the middle of nowhere Louisiana? Then I am out of luck.” – Kayla Ricker, 25, Ft. Campbell, KY

We Might Make These Sacrifices, But We All Agree We’d Do It Again in a Heartbeat

Military spouses make a lot of sacrifices — careers included. I spoke to a Business Development Manager at a trendy SaaS company in Seattle, WA not too long ago who finally started her career at 40 when her husband retired from the army. Forty. She waited her entire life to finally have the job that both her undergrad and graduate prepared her for.

But you know what she told me? “I would do it all over again, and again and again.”

And it’s true.

We all would.


3 thoughts on “It’s So Damn Hard to Have a Career as a Military Spouse

  1. Great point! I don’t have a career yet but I definitely am going thru this with college. It’s so difficult to be settled with all the moves and uncertainty. I have inattentive type adhd so I really struggle with online classes so begin on campus is a must for me. Not looking forward to when I have a career and have to deal with this lol thanks for sharing


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