From the Homefront: Job-hopping as a career positive

Twice a month, Coast Guard All Hands will feature “From the Homefront,” a column for Coast Guard spouses by Coast Guard spouse Shelley Kimball. Shelley has been married to Capt. Joe Kimball, chief of the office of aviation forces at Coast Guard headquarters, for 16 years. She currently serves on the board of directors for the Military Family Advisory Network.

Written by Shelley Kimball

My resume looks like a travel itinerary. You can tell where I have lived and for how long by following the jobs I’ve left behind.

Portrait of Shelley Kimball.

Portrait of Shelley Kimball.

Trying to find work as a military spouse means that you will face the inevitable question about why you have had so many jobs in so many places. Or worse – if they don’t ask, and they assume you have trouble keeping a job.

The median amount of time employees have been with their companies is 4.2 years, which is down slightly from a few years ago, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For those who are between 25 and 34 years old, it is even lower: 2.8 years. Some research shows it even lower.

What is fascinating about these statistics is that they are similar to the average amount of time between military moves, which is every two to three years.

We know that military spouse unemployment is higher than the national average, and our earnings are lower. Employers may be hesitant to hire military spouses because they will eventually leave, and in doing so miss the opportunity for exceptional employees.

So what is the best way to explain our patchwork resumes to prospective employers?

Erin Ward, the chief operation officer for the Military Spouse Corporate Career Network can sum up her advice in four words: “Get creative without lying.”

Erin Ward, the chief executive officer of the Military Spouse Corporate Career Network, has made a career out of helping people find work. Photo courtesy of Erin Ward.

Erin Ward, the chief executive officer of the Military Spouse Corporate Career Network, has made a career out of helping people find work. Photo courtesy of Erin Ward.

In all seriousness, Ward has held a variety of jobs: waiting tables, working in radio, insurance sales, real estate, and working at nonprofit organizations.

“It’s really an eclectic resume,” she said.

So she puts the eclectic in perspective when looking for work, and she advises other spouses to do the same. First, consider the characteristics necessary for the job being advertised. Applicants may not have worked in that job before, but they may have honed the necessary skills previously. For example, when Ward worked in food service, she learned management skills. And when she worked in insurance, she immersed in technology, data entry, and data analytics – skills she parlayed to a government contracting position later.

Now her work is focused on helping others find jobs. She tells everyone to target the resume for the skills necessary for the position, she said.

“Get that resume really solid, showing the benefits of all that work together,” Ward said. “When you are doing that targeting, pull out the skills for all the jobs you’ve had.”

Mimi Bouboulis has been a Coast Guard spouse for 23 years, and her resume reflects that.

“After 10 moves, my resume looks like a novel,” she said.

Mimi Bouboulis, left with her husband, Adm. Mel Bouboulis, has moved 10 times in 23 years. She said the variety in her work experiences makes her a better occupational therapist. Photo courtesy of Mimi Bouboulis.

Mimi Bouboulis, left with her husband, Adm. Mel Bouboulis, has moved 10 times in 23 years. She said the variety in her work experiences makes her a better occupational therapist. Photo courtesy of Mimi Bouboulis.

The variety of work experiences has given her valuable insight into best (or worst) practices. When interviewing for positions, she uses that as a selling point. She can help organizations solve internal problems because she has experienced them before, or she can suggest positive ideas that were a boon at previous workplaces.

“I have to honestly say having had so many different jobs has been a blessing for me,” Bouboulis said. “I have been able to work with so many incredible people and I know in my heart I am a better occupational therapist because of the craziness of moving so often.”

In fact, some employment research is showing that the perception of job-hopping is changing from negative to a career positive. Employers are becoming more understanding because it may mean that an employee is reaching for greater opportunities or is coming in with a more diverse background.

After looking for work in six different states, Maggie Smith has a system. If she is in an area with a larger military presence, like when she lived in Cape Cod or Southern Maryland, she doesn’t have to explain the series of jobs as much.

“In a case like this, I find it’s best to just be up front and positive about all the movement,” she said.

Maggie Smith, a special education teacher, has found work in six different states, and she has come up with a system for explaining moves to prospective employers. Photo courtesy of Maggie Smith.

Maggie Smith, a special education teacher, has found work in six different states, and she has come up with a system for explaining moves to prospective employers. Photo courtesy of Maggie Smith.

But if she is looking for work in an area with fewer military families, she tends to tread lightly.

“If asked what brought us to the area, I have been vague and said something like ‘my husbands employer transferred him here’ or ‘my husband had a job opportunity here and we’ve always wanted to live in Florida,’” she said. “I’ve been lucky and the question has never been pushed.”

All of the jobs and moves have given her a wealth of experiences that she uses to convince employers that she is the right person for the job.

“I let them know that it has made me adaptable and resourceful,” Hawkins said. “I told them about different training opportunities that were afforded to while at those jobs and how those skills would be beneficial if I got the position I was interviewing.”

Because it is a common experience among us, here are more tips and advice from Coast Guard spouses:

  • “I tailor my resume to each position I’m interviewing for. I only list the job description for those that are relevant and the others are just company names and dates. I’ve never had an issue. And if it’s a job I really want or want to learn more about, I email the company directly and sell myself, highlighting my strengths, experiences and why I would be a good fit,” said Danielle Medolla, who has successfully found work in five states.
  • “When asked about the state differences, I explain my husband’s in the Coast Guard. I’m very upfront and honest about it. I tell them that, if hired, I will work hard and be dedicated while we are stationed here. If they are going to take the time to train me, they should be able to trust me to be honest with them,” said Andrea Hawkins, who faces difficulty moving from state to state because her occupation requires licensure.
  • “I tell them that I’m very adaptable because of moving so much,” said Misty Blais, who has moved five times, and who is currently looking for work in her new community.

Join the conversation. How do you manage the series of jobs listed on your resume? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section below!

The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not to be construed as official or reflecting the views of the Commandant or of the U.S. Coast Guard.

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