How to Overcome Common Military Spouse Career Challenges

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Category: Military Support

By Matt Rowley
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U.S. military service members are not the only people who make sacrifices for their country. Their spouses and families also put their own goals, plans and wishes on hold to support their loved one’s service. Nowhere is this more apparent than when you consider the career prospects of military spouses.

According to the Military Family Lifestyle Survey conducted by Blue Star Families in 2019, 24% of military spouses are unemployed and 77% are underemployed. In this article, we explore why military spouses may face career challenges and how they can overcome them.

Why Do Military Spouses Face Career Challenges?

Numerous factors contribute to military spouse unemployment and underemployment. Here’s a breakdown of some of the most common reasons:

  • Demands of the military lifestyle: Many spouses cite the frequent moves and deployments of the military as a factor in their career choices. They may believe that employers are unwilling to hire them, as they are likely to relocate within a few years. Opportunities for advancement may also be limited due to a lack of seniority and longevity within an organization.
  • Childcare: Finding adequate childcare may also make it difficult for military spouses to continue in their career. Long absences of their spouse can place all of the childcare burden on them. Long distances away from family or other support systems and the cost of childcare can also result in spouses opting out of the workforce to care for the family.
  • Location-specific certifications and licenses: In some careers, such as teaching and nursing, military spouses find that their licenses and certifications don’t automatically transfer between states, making it cumbersome to find work after each move. Renewing or re-applying for these credentials typically places a substantial delay on their employment search, and forgoing them may mean taking a substantial pay cut.
  • Employment gaps: The challenges associated with finding work as a military spouse often lead to employment gaps, which can create more difficulties finding work. An extended gap may also leave the spouse lagging behind in industry knowledge and best practices.
  • Education: Some military spouses may put their own educational plans on hold in order to support their families. This may limit their career opportunities and result in untapped potential.

3 Strategies to Overcome Career Challenges

The issue of military spouse employment has come to the forefront, and it’s finally receiving much-overdue attention from the government, but here are some ideas for things you can do now to better position yourself for a fulfilling career.

1. Return to School

First, consider going back to school. Not only can you qualify to use your spouse’s GI Bill® benefits, there are also scholarship programs for military spouses as well as school-specific tuition discounts and waivers.

It’s possible to earn — or finish — a degree affordably, and thanks to online colleges, you can study wherever you happen to be stationed, whenever is convenient for your schedule. In fact, military-friendly colleges are well-equipped to help service members and their spouses succeed. Even if you already have a degree, consider earning an advanced degree or retraining for a career in a different field that is more easily transferrable wherever you happen to live.

2. Reinvent Yourself

Military spouses are in a unique position that isn’t necessarily available to most of the workforce, and that is that they have the opportunity to reinvent themselves every few years. Frequent moves can be opportunities to try different jobs or work within different industries. Many people dream of trying something different but don’t feel comfortable taking the initiative.

In many cases, military spouses aren’t tied to a specific location or employer, so take a chance and try something new. If you have trouble finding a job, either in your current field or a different one, consider volunteering as a means of gaining experience and strengthening your resume. Volunteering is also a great way to check out new career options before you commit to a new job or degree in that field.

3. Identify Flexible Options

The coronavirus pandemic in 2020 caused many economic shifts, one of them being millions of Americans working from home. The work-from-home stigma has been lifted, and that’s a good thing for military spouses looking for flexible employment options. Telecommuting jobs that can be done from anywhere are some of the best jobs for military spouses.

If telecommuting isn’t an option, freelancing or starting a home-based business are also options. For example, ZipRecruiter reported a $67,115 average annual salary for work-from-home virtual assistants in August 2020. The idea is to reframe your ideas of work and career, and look for opportunities that you can do from where you are and that allow you to maintain your other responsibilities, such as caring for children.


There’s no doubt that military spouses face significant challenges in their careers; however, marrying a member of the military shouldn’t mean you have to settle for a less-than-fulfilling career. With education, perseverance and creativity, you can find the right fit for your professional life.

At Columbia Southern University, our dedicated military support staff is comprised of current and former military members who understand your unique needs. We provide flexible online education options, and approximately 40% of our total student population of more than 29,000 are military-affiliated.

To learn more about CSU’s online degree programs for military spouses, visit

GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government Web site at

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