Military Spouse Preference Can Open Doors

Frequent moves are a way of life for military families, averaging a relocation every two years. As many can testify, this makes career progression difficult for the spouse and can significantly impact the financial stability of the entire family. For the 71 percent of enlisted spouses either in the work force or seeking work and the 61 percent of officer spouses in the same situation, finding employment can be a profound challenge.

Military spouses should familiarize themselves with all the tools available to assist them in their job search, taking advantage of any potential edge.

Military Spouse Preference (MSP) is a program developed by the Department of Defense (DoD) to help ease the interruption of a spouse’s career when the family must move due to permanent change of station (PCS) orders. MSP gives the military spouse applicant an additional five or 10 points on his or her civil service examination score for certain competitive positions. Because this is a DoD program, however, military spouse preference only applies to appropriated fund positions within the Department of Defense and its branches for positions at grades GS-15 and below.

It is important to note that the MSP program does not give a military spouse competitive status as an applicant. According to the Office of Personnel Management, competitive status is “a person’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.”

Spouses of active duty servicemembers may be eligible for preference if the following conditions are met.

  • He or she is married to the active duty servicemember prior to the reporting date to the new assignment.
  • The relocation is based on a PCS transfer and not separation or retirement.
  • The vacant position is within commuting distance of the new PCS location.
  • He or she is among the best-qualified group of candidates for the position; best-qualified applicants must receive a score of 80 or higher on the examination application.

Spouses may begin exercising their preference 30 days before their sponsors’ reporting date and for the duration of the tour as long as they do not decline a position considered valid for MSP under DoD policy. Spouses relocating overseas must wait until arrival at the new duty station to begin applying for positions using military spouse preference. However, MSP can be used for non-appropriated fund positions (NAF) at overseas duty stations.

Preference applies to both permanent and temporary positions lasting a year or longer. If a spouse indicates that he or she is interested in a temporary position and declines an offer, the spouse loses the preference. Preference also is lost if a temporary position is accepted or if the duration of the position is extended and the spouse declines the extension. If the position offered ends early or lasts less than one year, the spouse continues to retain the preference.

More information may be found on the Department of Defense website. To apply for MSP, visit the installation’s human relations office or family center – for the Army, the Employee Readiness Office; for the Navy, the Spouse Employment Assistance Office; Air Force, Career Focus Office; and Marine Corps, Family Member Employment Assistance Office.

Although each service’s employment activities may differ, all include – at no cost to the family member – individual job skill assessment and counseling; resume and cover letter preparation; computer, printer, and Internet access; information on the local job market and local job listings; career seminars; assistance with career and job search strategies; career guidance and coping strategies to help during the transition; and, of course, support and encouragement.

The Department of Defense and Department of Labor work together to support career-enhancing opportunities for military spouses. As a result, the Department of Labor has developed the Military Spouse Resource Center, to provide easy access to information, resources and opportunities concerning education, training and employment within the United States.

By Patricia Montes Barron