How would you come out the other side of this game? 10 pts. for every time you, a colleague, or your organization have asked these questions or delivered these statements to a military spouse during an interview:
"What's your husband do here?"
"Why did you relocate?"
"Quite an extensive resume, can you explain all these different positions in the last 7 years, you don't seem dedicated to any one position?"
"How do you multitask this career with the demands of your spouse's job?"
"So how long are you going to be here?" (While this question carefully skirts around being legal or not, if all paths lead to indicate the reason you are asking has to do with a spouse's military affiliation then you may be out of compliance.)
"So your spouse is Army, thank her for her service. What brings you to us today?"
"What brings you to the area?"
"Sorry you aren't the right fit as you follow your spouse around and don't have yours as a priority."
"How do your kids adjust to the moves? That must be a big change. Is this your last move?"
Fair hiring laws and legally sound HR processes are not new in practice and most companies put a lot of time, training, and support into hiring managers to ensure the bottom line is always being met: find the candidate with the qualifications and experience to fill the position.
And yet, these side stepping questions tend to sneak in and alarmingly, quite often. After a deep dive into a community forum, I've learned this is not exclusive to the military spouse community, civilians being interviewed get it too but an extra layer of underlying investigative mode usually creeps up when a candidate is military connected. It's time to bring it all to the proverbial desk top scattered in applicant resumes and breakdown this barrier between spouses and interviewers.
Interviews are not buddy time and an interviewer really should present no interest or lead conversation to divulge personal life. Hiring interviews are focused on the experience and skill set someone brings to the organization. These type of questions are null points when it comes to qualification and ability to perform the job at hand. Yet military spouses continue to be put on the spot. With the uprising generation workforce averaging 4 jobs in 10 years and the DOL national average at only 4.4 years in a job, it's more a reflection of antiquated hiring process, close minded thought processes and community stereotyping than actual interest or concern in a candidate's career lifecycle.
It's a mindset employers need to address organization wide and bring up to speed. Any candidates length of time in one location has no reflection on the caliber of work and success they can drive within your company. And if an organization is truly an advocate of retention and stability, telecommute or virtual opportunities should be considered giving organizations another layer of work flexibility, diversified talent, and dedicated and engaged employees.
"But we spend an average of $1,900 per employee in on boarding and training and that loss adds up." I understand. I've been a hiring manager with a multi-million dollar labor budget and we employed 82 military spouses. I am now a business owner with an entire founding team comprised of military spouses. My company also matches professionally skilled military spouses with businesses and entrepreneurs through virtual outsourcing models - cost, retention, and stability are all a part of my daily business focus (as well as of high importance to our clients) and a lot of factors contribute to the right candidate but never "how long are you going to be around?"
Would you ask a male interviewee to divulge his upcoming wedding date, and to go ahead and gauge his possibility of a move anytime soon? You know the, "Just give us ballpark idea." Harmless right? Do you ask a 57 year old top of line sales candidate if she loves her grandchildren and if she has any plans to relocate closer to them in the short term? No. You don't. (If you do, hire an HR attorney stat.)
In the end, it's not only hurting the organizations employing these tactics, which you might be most worried about it's also creating a national crisis, a steady economic recession in military families, and effecting quality of life, military retention, and personal fulfillment. Organizations are missing out on employees with heightened community awareness, grit, emotional intelligence, global experience, and mad skill sets. Being forced to adapt, overcome, and conquer time and time again develops truly unique characteristics that drive thriving communities and organizations. And it can be argued that the loyalty and dedication a military spouse will give an organization exceeds that of their civilian counterparts.
Final food for thought: Male military spouses do not experience these same type of stigmatic questions during interviews and well, that's a whole different conversation.
To my fellow spouses: Answer questions regarding military affiliation with positivity and confidence. Don't miss a beat. Think on your feet. Which isn't hard because that's how we live daily. It gets awkward real fast when you know what you're really being asked but stay honest and protect your integrity. A little tongue in cheek goes a long way.
"The area? It's so great here, the community is great and we love the local vibe."
"The extensive resume? My personal goal has always been a diversified skill set that can bring success to any team or organization."
"Is my career goal long term? Yes, I plan to advance and build until I become independently wealthy or hit retirement."
"Why'd I leave my last job? There is so much of the world to be seen and I look forward to contributing and helping teams move forward wherever I am."
A little humor helps cope but the gravity of the situation is daunting. Stigmas continue to block military spouse employment and have no place in a growing global and digital economy.