Integrating Career Theories for Military Spouse Employment: Unleashing Hope in the Chaos

By Candina Janicki

The military spouse community faces continuous and unpredictable changes that directly affect their ability to find and maintain employment. The U.S. White House reports a 21% unemployment rate for military spouses, a rate they state that has not significantly changed in over a decade (White House, 2023). This rate is likely to be around ten times higher than the June US national average of 3.7% and represents a community in dire need (Trading Economics, 2023).

Career professionals play a crucial role in supporting the military spouse community. Two effective career theories that may be used by career professionals for this population include the Chaos Theory of Careers (CTC) and the Hope Action Theory of Career Development (HATC).

Effective Career Theories for Facilitating Military Spouse Employment

CTC acknowledges the unpredictability and complexity of the modern world, recognizing that career paths are not linear and expect uncertainty. The CTC approach aids clients in building competencies for:

The CTC approach also involves both convergent and emergent perspectives. The convergent perspective focuses on shared qualities like vocational interests, intelligence, skills, and knowledge, while the emergent perspective considers factors such as meaning, purpose, and response to failure. By incorporating CTC principles, and building the competencies mentioned, career professionals can help military spouses understand their strengths, values, and limitations, while remaining open to opportunities, adaptability, and resilience (Bright & Pryor, 2012).

Another career theory emphasizing self-reflection and adaptability that may be helpful for the military spouse population is the Hope Action Theory of Career Development (HATC). The HATC framework proposes that people who have elevated levels of hope are more likely to act towards setting and achieving their goals, persist in the face of challenges, and ultimately achieve success.

Many military spouses believe that the frequent moves, the absence of their significant other, and other factors associated with the military lifestyle have had a direct negative impact on their work opportunities (Harrell et al., 2005). These negative feelings can often lead to a sense of hopelessness. HATC, with its focus on hopefulness and visioning gives spouses the tools to build competencies and increase their levels of hope to persist in the face of challenges.

The following are the HATC seven competencies:

  1. Hopefulness: The degree of hope about your future
  2. Self-reflection: Examining thoughts, beliefs, behaviors, and circumstances
  3. Self-clarity: Having a clear understanding of self in terms of interests, values, skills, motivation, goals, etc.
  4. Visioning: Brainstorming future possibilities for career and identifying desired future outcomes
  5. Goal Setting and Planning: Identifying, planning, and setting goals
  6. Implementing: Taking action to achieve goals
  7. Adapting: Using new information about self and environment to inform future goals and plans.  (Hope-Action Theory, n.d., para. 1).

By recognizing the efficacy of each career theory in aiding military spouses in an unpredictable employment landscape, an intriguing question arises: What would be the impact of combining the elements of these theories?

Istock 164562511 Credit Monkeybusinessimages

Hope in the Chaos: SPAN

Through a transformative integration, career professionals equip military spouses with the tools and resilience they need to navigate uncertainty and achieve success. For ease, this framework will be referred to as SPAN, which stands for Self, Professional, Action, and Nuances. SPAN encompasses the stages of self-discovery, professional discovery, taking action, staying open to opportunity and being adaptable as spouses deal with the consistent changes and nuances of careers. Career professionals could implement the SPAN framework to aid their military spouse clients to not only find a position, but also to build skills. Ideally, the SPAN framework is introduced early in the spouse’s employment lifecycle but can be implemented at any time throughout their journey. Implementing the SPAN framework includes the following:

Self: Focus on the client's self-discovery and reflection process, utilizing tools like metaphors, narratives, storytelling, mind-mapping, career lifelines, visioning, and assessments. These tools, including specific tools from each theory, provide insights into the client's background, interests, values, and sensitivity to conditions.

Two useful tools from the CTC are the Reality Checklist, and the Luck Readiness Index. The Reality Checklist helps clients consider how they make decisions by reflecting on their own experiences. The Luck Readiness Index is a 52-item scale that measures opportunity awareness in eight areas: flexibility, persistence, self-efficacy, curiosity, optimism, strategy, risk, and luckiness. This index clarifies the degree of positivity and proactivity people have in confronting uncertainty (Bright & Pryor, 2011a, 2011b).

From the HATC is the Hope Action Inventory, which measures the level of each of the seven HATC competencies listed previously. This inventory allows the career practitioner to measure the clients’ progress in these competencies throughout the coaching process.

Professional: This involves gaining an understanding of available professional environments and options. Career professionals provide tools and guidance for conducting occupational research, assessing employment climate factors, and setting goals. This phase also involves utilizing job market resources, analyzing gaps, developing strategies, identifying trends, and exploring job leads. Additionally, flexibility and adaptability are emphasized through the development of alternative and contingency plans.

Action: Collaborate with clients to develop marketing materials, enhance interviewing, negotiation, and networking skills. This stage involves active job searching, continuously refining and adapting materials and delivery based on feedback and targeting.

Nuances: Employ strategies and exercises to cultivate resilience, adaptability, and an open mindset, fostering readiness for opportunities. Utilizing stories and narratives, career professionals normalize failure and emphasize its value (Arthur et al., 2019). They also assist clients in establishing evaluation processes and measures to adapt to changing circumstances and career landscapes. Career practitioners want to encourage the development of mentorships, sponsorships, and ongoing professional growth to enhance future opportunities for clients.


The SPAN framework relies on the processes continuing throughout the military spouse’s entire career journey. Career professionals play a crucial role in equipping their clients with the necessary skills to independently practice ongoing self-evaluation and adaptability within the professional environment.

Combining the elements of open thinking and reframing failure from CTC with the elements of developing agency and hope as an action from HATC, practitioners can offer significant tools for military spouses. These tools aid in finding military spouse’s career, lowering unemployment numbers, and developing their careers. The combination includes mirrored elements of self-exploration, preparation, goal setting, implementation, and adaptation. Through this process, career practitioners will increase hope in the chaos surrounding employment for a military spouse over the lifetime.




Arthur, N., Neault, R., &  McMahon, M. (2019). Career theories and models at work: ideas for practice. CERIC.

Bright, J. E. H., & Pryor, R. G. L. (2011a). The chaos theory of careers. Journal of Employment Counseling, 48, 163-165.

Bright, J. E. H., & Pryor, R. G. (2011b). The chaos theory of careers: A New perspective on working in the twenty-first century. Routledge.

Bright, J. E. H., & Pryor, R. G. L. (2012). The chaos theory of careers in career education. Journal of the National Institute for Career Education and Counseling, 28, 10-21.

Harrell, M. C., Lim, N., Werber, L., & Golinelli, D. (2005). Working around the military: challenges of military spouse employment. RAND Corporation. https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_briefs/RB9056.html

Hope-Action Theory. (n.d.). About Us. https://hope-action.com/

Janicki, C. (2019, November 1). Opportunity found: chaos theory for military spouse employment. Career Convergence. https://ncda.org/aws/NCDA/pt/sd/news_article/261758/_PARENT/CC_layout_details/false

Niles, S., Harris-Bowlsbey, J., & Bowlsbey, M. (2021). Career recovery: creating hopeful careers in difficult times. Pearson Education, Inc.

Schlesinger, J., & Daley, L. P. (2016). Applying the chaos theory of careers as a framework for college career centers. Journal of Employment Counseling, 53(2), 86-96. https://doi.org/10.1002/joec.12030

Thayer, R. L. (2021, December 27). Report finds military spouse unemployment rate nearly four times higher than national average. Stars and Stripes. https://www.stripes.com/theaters/us/2021-12-27/military-spouse-unemployment-study-NDAA-4104633.html

Trading Economics. (2023). United States unemployment rate. https://tradingeconomics.com/united-states/unemployment-rate

White House. (2023, June 9). Fact sheet: Biden-Harris administration announces sweeping executive actions to strengthen economic opportunity for military and veteran spouses, caregivers, and survivors. White House. https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2023/06/09/fact-sheet-biden-harris-administration-announces-sweeping-executive-actions-to-strengthen-economic-opportunity-for-military-and-veteran-spouses-caregivers-and-survivors/#:~:text=Although%20military%20spouses%20are%20talented%2C%20diverse%2C%20and%20resilient%2C,has%20not%20significantly%20changed%20over%20the%20past%20decade




Candina JanickiCandina Janicki is a Global Career Development Facilitator, Certified Master of Career Services, Certified Career Services Provider, and Certified Professional Resume Writer who aids service members transitioning out of the military to the civilian sector. Candina is a military spouse of 23 years and was raised as a military dependent. She volunteers her time to aid other military spouses and veterans through mentorship and career development assistance. Candina currently works for the Microsoft Software and Systems Academy, where she is a member of the Military Affairs team developing and conducting Professional Development Training. Candina can be reached at candinajanicki@outlook.com or on LinkedIn at  https://www.linkedin.com/in/candinajanicki/


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1 Comment

Lupe Villarreal   on Monday 09/18/2023 at 04:08 PM

Loving the article, Dina! Great tools that apply not only to military spouses but others as well. Thank you so much for doing this. I will share this with military spouses I help. :)

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