Marry into the military, and outsiders expect you will get free air travel, never pay a dime for dental, and walk right into a federal job. None of those things ever happens. Especially not federal employment.
Federal jobs are appealing to military spouses who want job status that will stay with them as they PCS. Getting one of those federal jobs is challenging, to say the least. In fact, military spouses who have actively pursued federal employment report that they feel suckerpunched when they receive a system-generated message that says they are not qualified for a position. This is particularly true when they know they are more than qualified for that job.
As a military spouse who has successfully attained federal employment, I have made it my unofficial mission to assist other military spouses who want to do the same. In doing so, I have found that there are five common mistakes that military spouses often make.
MISTAKE #1. Using the wrong kind of resume. There are some major differences between a federal resume and the private-sector resume we learned about in high school or college. Federal resumes require much more detail, including the number of hours worked per week, salary, and duties performed. If your resume contains bullets and is only a page or two long, it won’t work for the federal application process. You should be detailing your experience in narrative format, addressing the qualification requirements for the positions you are seeking. Oh, and your resume has to be tailored for each position you apply for ... see Mistake #2.
MISTAKE #2. Skipping over the announcement or questionnaire. Did you realize that military spouses can often apply to “internal” announcements, or those for status candidates? Be sure to read the “who may apply” section, or else you might be missing numerous job opportunities. In addition, the announcements give you a lot of important information you need when preparing your resume. This includes a preview of the occupational questionnaire and the categories on how your resume will be rated. You are given obvious clues about how applicants will be evaluated -- follow the breadcrumbs!
MISTAKE #3. Misunderstanding Military Spouse Employment Preference (MSP). This is a big one. Many spouses think they understand it, but few really do. Let’s debunk the misconception: A hiring manager does not have to hire you over another applicant. However, there are two programs that help eligible military spouses: Non-competitive Appointment and the Priority Placement Program for military spouses (also known as PPP-S).
Get smart about the programs that you are eligible for and how to utilize them. If you haven’t read Executive Order 13473, 5 CFR 315.612, Subpart F, and chapter 14 of the PPP Handbook, I recommend you start there. Know that you must register for PPP-S through your local Civilian Personnel Office, where your resume will be rated for occupational series and grades. In other words, your resume has to reflect your qualifications or you may not be rated at the appropriate General Schedule (GS) level. Oh, and even after you are registered in the PPP-S, you must still apply for positions and be considered among the best qualified. This sounds more complicated than it is. Don’t let it deter you.
MISTAKE #4. Avoiding available resources. It took me years to get a federal position. I know now that if I had used the available resources it would not have taken nearly so long. Here’s the deal: If there’s one word that does not describe the federal employment process it’s “intuitive.” You may think you can figure it out on your own, and possibly you can, but I recommend you let paid professionals do their job and help you. As the saying goes, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” We military spouses have access to numerous, free resources and the expertise of people who want to help us. Check into Military OneSource, your installation’s Employment Readiness Program at your Family Support Center or Army Community Service, and other resources like The Resume Place and Military Spouse Corporate Career Network.
MISTAKE #5. Underestimating the power of networking. The statistics don’t lie. Networking is a huge component of any successful job search and the federal job search is no exception. Seek out other military spouses at your installation who have successfully attained federal employment. Are you using Linked In? Check out In Gear Career and see if there is a chapter at your installation. Volunteering can be a great way to find out about potential job openings and impress the right people.
If I can offer one last piece of advice, it is to be persistent. The path to federal employment can often be a long and frustrating one. But if you are committed to the process and willing to put in the time and effort it requires, it can and will pay off. Don’t stop trying until you have checked off every resource on this page. Good luck!
-- Christina Overstreet is an Army spouse who works at Army Community Service at West Point. She has a Master’s Degree in Human Resources and is a Certified Federal Job Search Trainer and Certified Federal Career Coach.