As a mil spouse living OCONUS (outside the continental United States), it can be challenging to find and maintain employment. Moving frequently is a part of military life, and military spouses often have to deal with the added stress of job hunting in a new location. It's no wonder that military spouses have a much higher unemployment rate than their civilian counterparts. But the good news is that there are resources and programs available to help military spouses overcome these challenges and build successful careers despite the obstacles they face – even if you’re living out your life in Japan, Germany, or some other exotic locale. So, if you’re staring down another upcoming PCS or you’re just tired of the same old-same old, here are some employment tips that might help while you’re OCONUS.
Here are our tips for military spouse stateside employment success
Start job hunting early
One of the most important things you can do as a mil spouse is to start looking for employment as soon as you get that RFO! The earlier you start, especially if you're going OCONUS, the better. That way you can get a feel for what you really want to do. Of course, there's no telling what life will look like once you arrive at your new home. But still. Effort is effort.
Take advantage of SOFA
If you're living OCONUS, you'll likely be covered by the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). SOFA provides certain privileges and amenities to mil spouses, service members, and your family. Some of these privileges include access to on-base employment opportunities, tax benefits, and exemptions from local laws and regulations. Make sure to research SOFA and understand how it can benefit you in your job search.
Speaking of, if you find work while outside the continental U.S., don't think you can skimp on your taxes. In fact, you'll have to pay American taxes and you might owe money to the host country. Thankfully, the IRS understands the potential strain of this increased tax burden and offers a few tax credits and benefits. The Foreign Tax Credit allows you to claim a credit for every dollar taxed by the host government. The Foreign Earned Income Exclusion lets you exclude all income earned overseas up to a certain amount when filing taxes. The Veterans Benefits and Transition Act of 2018 makes it easy to change your state of residence. That way, you match your service member's spouse.
Look for remote work opportunities
One of the advantages of modern technology is that many jobs can now be done remotely. That's a major boon for any and all mil spouses who have tried in vain to keep a career going through different states and countries. These days, there are plenty of remote work options in just about every field. You might even consider exploring military spouse-owned remote options like Instant Teams.
Network with other military spouses
This one is a given but sometimes it's easy to overlook. Everyone knows the military is one giant/small community and mil spouses are no exception. Consider how you can leverage your network with other mil spouses to find work opportunities. Or, if you're the socializing kind, maybe join a local spouse groups or online community to connect with other military spouses in your area.
Utilize Military OneSource
Military OneSource is a free resource provided by the Department of Defense. It offers a wide range of services and support to mil spouses and families. Aside from the counseling and other services offered, Military OneSource gives you access to career counseling, job search assistance, resume writing services, and more. Make sure to take advantage of this valuable resource.
Be proactive and persistent
At least we didn't say be "resilient," right? it's true though - proactive and persistent will help you find the job you want that fits your skills. It's no secret finding employment as a mil spouse feels next to impossible a lot of the time. But the more you work at it, the more you'll see results. Keep your resume up-to-date, apply for jobs regularly, and be persistent in following up with potential employers.
As military families gear up to move once again, it's key to remember you're not alone. Mil spouses everywhere face these challenges. It's tough to establish a stable career and gain financial independence, but there are resources and support available. The key takeaway here is that you are not alone.
And while you're leveraging and networking and doing all the things, don't forget the DoD has thought about you too. No, really! The Military Spouse Preference (MSP) program is a hiring preference offered by the Department of Defense (DoD). MSP gives mil spouses preference in the hiring process for certain federal government jobs.
To be eligible for the MSP program, a military spouse must be relocating with their service member spouse to a new duty station and meet certain other criteria. The MSP program is designed to help military spouses maintain their career and financial independence despite the challenges of frequent moves and deployments.
Military One Source and SECO
One path to better job security is to pursue an education. The Spouse Education and Career Opportunities (SECO) website provides information and resources for those interested in earning a degree or planning for a career transition. You can even speak with a career coach who will help you pick courses, improve your resume, and teach you interviewing skills. That's always a good idea for any mil spouse, no matter where your service member spouse is in their career.
Make no mistake. The military knows that a service member’s service affects his or her spouse. Even for those stationed in the U.S., having a loved one always be on the move is tough. Nevertheless, any of the above resources can be useful to those who’ve tied the knot with a service member.