No luck finding jobs in town? Then a job on base may be perfect for you. For many spouses, civilian jobs on military installations are the obvious answer to the employment conundrum.
Stability, location and a wide variety of professional options make jobs on base extremely covetable, but it does not mean they are easy to get.
In fact, many military spouses have told us that getting that base job seems nearly impossible. Some have had great luck. Others have ended up in application purgatory.
Some report being deemed qualified for the job but never making it the next level -- the interview. Others report never making it past the application.
From overqualified candidates with years of work experience to just-out-of-school newbies, spouses of all sorts ask us that all-important question: How exactly do you get a job on base?
To get that answer, we have turned to military spouses who have successfully gotten the job for some expert tips.
You have to start with volunteering.
You have heard it before, and for good reason. According to Marine spouse and L.I.N.K.S teacher Stacey, a little face time and elbow grease is Step One to getting hired into most jobs on base.
"They aren't going to hire you if you aren't familiar with the system," she says. "We keep seeing that. So you need to show up and volunteer for things. If you don't, your application won't look as good as the person who did. Period."
Stacey began working with families aboard Camp Pendleton base seven years ago. Since then, she's found employment at every base where they have been stationed, each time using her volunteer work as her foot in the door.
"In L.I.N.K.S, people always ask questions about that. 'How do we get jobs?' they'll say. And I'll say, you start right here. Volunteering to help other spouses out."
She says she has seen more than a dozen former volunteers get hired into positions at the child development center and with Marine Corps Community Services, the Marine Corps' on-base civilian arm. "At least 20 that I can think of have gotten jobs that way. It gives you experience and connects you. You can't beat that."
Sarah is one the spouses who took Stacey's advice. "You have to volunteer," she seconds, "and you should go to the application classes if they have them. Not every base has them, but when they’re there, you should go."
Take the workshop already.
Many installations offer workshops to help you navigate the application process for jobs on base. Many people write off these classes as something they already know and a waste of time -- after all, if you can figure out a resume, you can certainly figure out an application.
“Applying to jobs on base really is different though,” says Sarah. “And it’s helpful to have the class.”
While the federal government ditched the notoriously difficult "Knowledge, Skills and Abilities" questionnaires years ago, the same questions are now being asked for many on-base jobs in the form of "assessment questions."
“These questionnaires are tricky, because you have to use the right kind of wording to get your resume picked up,” Sarah says. She works at the CDC, where rumors of computers rejecting applications because buzzwords were missing abound.
“They aren’t rejecting qualified applications, obviously,” she says, laughing away the rumor, “but the lesson is you have to actually use the important words from the job listing. If they say they need someone with ‘early childhood experience,’ you need to say that you have that. ‘Early childhood experience’ exactly.”
Learning the ins and outs of the application process and its demands is exactly what these classes are here to help you navigate.
“I did one when I was applying for my job,” Sarah explains. “I learned how to answer the questions in the way they wanted, which is good, because I wasn’t giving enough detail. I learned that. Also, I got to meet the HR staff. They knew me by name when I submitted my application. That helps.”
These kinds of seminars can be a great way to not just ready your application, but also to network with the people hiring on base.
Fill out the Spouse Preference form.
While you’re there, ask about spouse preference. Certain jobs -- although far from all -- are eligible for spouse preference programs, but just being a spouse isn’t enough to get you qualified. You actually have to find the form and submit it with your application, proving you really are the military spouse you say you are.
“Definitely fill out the spouse preference form,” advises Halley, a Marine Corps wife in North Carolina. Halley also works with the CDC, and she is confident spouse preference helped her land her job.
Army wife Hillary agrees. “I don’t know what I would do without the spouse preference job. It helped me move up through the ranks. I work in physical training and therapy, and working on post I can really keep my career going between moves. I love it. And I got my first job thanks to spouse preference.”
But spouse preference doesn’t apply to all jobs. The higher up the job, the less likely spouse preference will be put into practice. “I found that every job I applied for was above that level,” says Air Force wife Tania. “But I was able to go to a job fair, and after talking to the hiring manager face-to-face, I got the job. I think seeing me and my dedication helped.”
We know showing up is half the battle, but sometimes getting the courage to show up at a new base -- and an HR office at that -- can be kind of daunting.
“Don’t be afraid,” says Tania. “Call and ask for help. If you submit a resume and it doesn’t get any attention, call and ask why. You can always ask with them to meet with you to discuss your application. The worst they can say is no.”
Volunteering gets your foot in the door. Application workshops make sure you’re submitting the right thing. Spouse Preference gives you the edge up. And face-to-face connections can seal the deal.
“No matter what you do,” says Stacey, the veteran installation worker, “make sure you tell everyone you know that you’re looking for a job on base. Someone will know someone, and that’s always the best way to get hired.”
Tell us: What kind of luck have you had getting jobs on post? Any tips for other spouses?
-- Looking for a job on base? Be sure to check your branch’s resources. Here’s our branch-by-branch guide from spouses on the ground about what you can use to help you get a job -- both on base and off -- right where you’re stationed.