Active Duty: How Military Spouses Can Help Your Company

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In August of 2005, Susan Villafane’s husband was severely wounded during the Iraq war. After a number of surgeries and a lot of time in physical therapy, he retired and the family had to move off the military base.

That meant Susan had to look for a new job in a new location. Again.

Yes, the issue was a familiar one, but that didn’t make things any easier. While her husband’s retirement opened the possibility of remaining in one place for a while, a stigma remained: Villafane was labeled as a job-hopper, a turnoff to prospective employers.

To make matters tougher, most job applications did not ask whether Villafane was a spouse of a service member, so she had no way of explaining why she had several jobs over a short period of time.

Fast-forward about a decade, and it’s clear that Villafane has landed on her feet: She’s the assistant vice president of Talent Acquisition and Staffing for the government sector at Xerox. Her story is an example of the progress that spouses of servicemen and women are making in corporate America. That being said, according to the Military Spouse Employment Partnership (MSEP), military spouses still face a 25 percent unemployment rate and 25 percent wage gap compared with civilians.

There are several non-profit organizations, plus corporate and government initiatives, continuing to push forward veterans issues in the workforce. As we pay respect to our servicemen and women during Memorial Day Weekend, here are some simple things hiring managers should be mindful of about the potential contributions veterans’ spouses can make to their teams:

1. They’re Cool Under Pressure.  All that moving around can help develop unique experience and skills. Military personnel and their spouses are inclined to handle stress well and adapt quickly to change. These experiences can be very useful in any high-stress corporate environment, but especially in customer care, data analyst, help desk, and systems developer positions.

2. They’re Easy to Find. There are a number of career fairs that focus on veterans — both active and retired — and their spouses. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce hosts hundreds of fairs each year through its Hiring Our Heroes program. Some of those fairs are exclusive to military spouses. The Chamber has an Employer Roadmap page with information about how to connect with the best talent for your business.

The MSEP provides career counseling and interview prep seminars for military spouses. It also offers community-based and company-based initiatives for partnering businesses. Since 2011, MSEP’s corporate partners have hired more than 55,000 military spouses.

3. They’re Ready to Lead. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, the average age of active duty military spouses is 31.9 and 84 percent have at least some college education — meaning most have enough experience to be manager-level employees.

For many companies, hiring veterans’ spouses is not a question of ability; it’s a question of finding the right fit for their situation. If a couple knows whether they will be in a location for a short or indeterminate time, the key is to find a project or position that is beneficial to both them and the business. It’s a work in progress, but as initiatives evolve and companies’ understanding of veterans’ issues improves, we should see significant development in the years to come.

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