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Top Federal HR Officials Stress Hiring for Military Spouses, Ex-Prisoners

At their annual meeting, chief human capital officers talk best practices for implementing initiatives intended to boost diversity in hiring.

The top human resources officials across the federal government on Monday discussed best practices for expanding the hiring of military spouses and individuals who were formerly incarcerated.

Sarah Egeland, policy director for Second Lady Karen Pence, said the spouses of military personnel have a very difficult time finding gainful employment, which prompted President Trump to sign an executive order last year making it easier to hire military spouses to federal jobs.

“They experience significant unemployment and underemployment due to having to move roughly every two to three years,” Egeland said. “Unemployment for military spouses is at 24%, significantly higher than the national average, and they are far less likely to participate in the labor market.”

Several military spouses discussed the difficulty of employment while moving around the world, even as federal employees.

“I at one point was a GS-13, but left my job to move to Germany [with my husband],” said Cheryl Mason, an employee at the Board of Veterans Appeals. “But the only job I could get when I got back was a GS-6. The reason I’m passionate about this issue is that this happened almost 30 years ago, but I have not seen a lot of change in this world until the last five years. We’re slightly moving the needle now, but we can do better.”

Annette Maldonado, a General Services Administration employee, said agencies can do two key things to improve their ability to hire military spouses: bring subject matter experts into the hiring process, as they can better relate to a candidate’s specific experience, and educate military spouses about the executive order and its noncompetitive hiring authority.

“There’s a lot that’s not clear to the military spouses [about the executive order],” she said. “Sometimes they think that [the Defense Department] is the only option, but there’s a whole federal government out there that they can apply to.”

Mason said a big obstacle she has seen in hiring is that hiring managers often overlook military spouses’ resumes, as they often have employment gaps and frequent job changes.

“We need to learn how to read a military spouse’s resume,” Mason said. “Part of it is working with the spouses to change how they write their resume so that it fits in USAJobs, but we have a lot of struggle, because there’s gaps. You have to have someone who knows that your resume isn’t going to read like a normal one, and understand why someone might go from a GS-13 to a GS-6.”

OPM provided HR officials with an update on the personnel office's efforts to improve hiring of formerly incarcerated individuals, prompted by the reauthorization of the Second Chance Act, which was included in the First Step Act, signed by President Trump in December 2018.

Mark Reinhold, OPM associate director for employment policy, said the agency is working with the Bureau of Prisons on an initiative to teach prisoners and people in centers that prepare them for reentry how to navigate the federal hiring process.

“Our work is focused on two areas: providing agencies with guidance and direction, and helping to inform applicants with a federal job search guide,” he said. “We have webinars and sessions about how to navigate USAJobs, how to write a federal resume and how to interview for federal jobs . . . We’re coordinating with the Bureau of Prisons to promote the webinar sessions to more than 10,000 inmates at more than 200 reentry centers, and we’ll have workshops starting in earnest this month.”