Federal Employment for Military Spouses: The Golden Ticket?
by Katie Savant, Government Relations Information Manager & Writer
Early in my husband’s career I dreamed of having a federal job. I wanted to work on base, serve my country as a federal employee, participate in a retirement program, and have a career that would move with me. I thought I would be able to find a job at our first duty station and then easily transfer from base to base when my husband received permanent change of station (PCS) orders. The Department of Defense (DoD) employs more than 700,000 civilians in an array of critical positions worldwide, and I wanted to be one of them.
The path to federal employment was not as straightforward as I had imagined. I arrived at our new duty location, resume in hand, and headed to the employment office. After I signed up for resume writing classes, grabbed a list of the available jobs on base, and picked up every available resource, my head began to spin with confusion and opportunities.
Understand the Lingo
One challenge to securing federal employment is understanding the language. Some military spouses are eligible for a noncompetitive appointment. But what is a noncompetive appointment, anyway? What are NAF-funded positions? If you don’t get a handle on the terms first, it will be difficult to know what resources are available. As a military spouse, you must first determine if you are eligible to apply for a particular job. Some postions are open to the public, others are open to those individuals with a competitive status (i.e. veterans), and then there are noncompetitive positions.
Competitive Positions: Most civil service jobs fall under this category. Competitive jobs must be filled through a fair, open, and merit-based process. The competitive examination, which is open to all applicants, may consist of a written test, an evaluation of an applicant's education and experience, and/or an evaluation of other attributes necessary for successful performance in the position to be filled.
Competitive positions are not the same as a competitive status. A competitive status is an individual’s basic eligibility for assignment (for example, by transfer, promotion, reassignment, demotion, or reinstatement) to a position in the competitive service without having to compete with members of the general public in an open competitive examination. Once acquired, status belongs to the individual, not to the position.
Noncompetitive Positions: A position in the competitive service that is not made by selection from an open competitive examination and that is usually based on current or prior federal service. A noncompetitive action includes (1) all of the types of actions described under inservice placement, (2) appointments of non-federal employees whose public or private enterprise positions are brought into the competitive service, and (3) appointments and conversions to career and career-conditional employment made under special authorities. Military spouses are eligible for a noncompetitive appointment thanks to a Presidential Executive Order.
A military spouse is eligible for a noncompetitive appointment if their service member received PCS orders within the last two years. Military widows or widowers and spouses of 100 percent disabled veterans are also eligible for a noncompetitive position. Military widows and spouses of 100 percent disabled veterans are not limited to the two-year window. A hiring agency has the option of using a noncompetitive appointment, but it is not required. When applying for a position under this authority, you will need a copy of your spouse’s PCS orders and a copy of your marriage certificate.
NAF positions: Military spouses should also understand that not all federal positions are funded by Congress. Department of Defense (DoD) non-appropriated fund (NAF) employees work in military exchanges and morale, welfare, and recreation (MWR) programs. NAF employees are paid from funds generated by those activities. NAF employees are federal employees, but they are not covered by most laws administered by the Office of Personnel Management, unless specifically provided by statute.
Find an Expert
Visit your local installation family readiness center and sign up for a federal resume writing class. During this class, you will become familiar with the federal hiring terms. If you’re not located near a base, contact Military OneSource and ask to speak to a counselor in the Spouse Education & Career Opportunity (SECO) center. Military OneSource has counselors who are trained to help you draft a federal resume. Visit www.militaryonesource.mil for more information.
Visit your local Civilian Personnel Office (CPO). Federal civil service positions are filled by local CPOs. Procedures vary from region to region, so it is always best to check with your installation’s CPO for details on local civil service vacancies.
Explore online resources
Several websites offer free federal resume writing templates. A template is a great place to start if you haven’t created a federal resume before or if you’re updating your civilian-style resume. The Resume Place has a free federal resume builder, cover letter builder, and supplemental skills builder.
USAJOBS has a resource center with frequently asked questions and terms you should know. You can also search and apply for federal jobs on the USAJOBS.gov website.
Military Spouse Specific Programs
Ah, now for the good part. Are there military spouse specific programs? The answer is yes. There are two main paths to aid military spouses with their quest for federal employment: a noncompetitive appointment, and the DoD Military Spouse Preference Program.
The DoD Military Spouse Preference Program (MSP) offers employment placement preference to military spouses who meet the eligibility requirements. To use MSP, you must relocate with your spouse under PCS orders to an active-duty assignment and be among the best qualified for a position within commuting distance of your spouse’s new duty station. If you meet these requirements, you are able to apply for Program “S”, the Priority Placement Program for military spouses. You apply for the program through your local Civilian Personal Office (CPO). You may be asked to provide a copy of your spouse’s orders and a marriage certificate. Military spouses must register with their local CPO in order to partcipate in this program.
The challenging part about both the noncompetitive appointment and the Military Spouse Preference Program is each can be handled differently at the local level. Take your time to network with hiring managers at your local CPO and your spouse employment program manager. Our Association has heard from persistent spouses who were successfully hired under one of these programs, and we have also heard from spouses who encountered challenges.
Network – Yes, even for a Federal Job
Once you have identified your skills and your dream job, talk to employees who currently work for the organization. How were they hired? Did they use the noncompetitive appointment or the Military Spouse Preference Program? Who is the hiring manager for the position? Are there volunteer opportunities within the department? Many military spouses have started as volunteers and later transitioned into a paid position. I recall a Navy spouse who volunteered at Fleet and Family Services for nearly a year. When a position became available, they offered it to her first because she had proven herself as a dedicated volunteer and employee.
Opportunities All Around
Not all the jobs in and around military installations are federal jobs. If you want to work on base, look at the various organizations near your installation. There are several nonprofits, not-for-profits, other organizations, and businesses that support the military community and are located close to the installations. Examples include the aid societies, the privitized housing offices, banks and credit unions, Armed Services YMCA, FOCUS (Families OverComing Under Stress) and defense contractors. Defense contractors perform a variety of services on base including education and training, security support, and counseling services.
Explore your installation. Network with the Spouse Employment Program Manger. Drive around the installation and observe the activity around you. Your next job could be right around the corner.
Eight years after our first move, I occasionally flirt with the idea of federal employment. Now, I work with federal employees, nonprofit employees, not-for-profit employees, entrepreneurs, and businesses employees who care about military families. I am fortunate to be where I am. For the time being, federal employment isn’t for me, but it could be in your future. Many savvy miltiary spouses have made a career of federal service. Seek a mentor and if you really want a federal job, be persistent.
Additional Terms You Should Know
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DoD Military Spouse Preference Program “S” Fact sheet
The Resume Place