A Military Spouse’s Guide to Maintaining a Cosmetology Career

Employment issues are among military spouses’ top sources of dissatisfaction, and it’s no mystery why. Frequent moves can seriously hinder career growth, with military spouses continually needing to find new employment and even being hesitant to reveal their spousal status, for fear that it may limit their job opportunities. According to a 2017 survey, the military spouse unemployment rate was 24%, a high number that’s held fairly steady since 2012—for comparison’s sake, the national unemployment rate that year hovered around 4%. Fortunately, a growing number of flexible career opportunities have enabled military spouses all over the world to maintain satisfying careers, with 61% of active-duty spouses being in the labor force.

Cosmetology is one such career, providing military spouses the opportunity to do creative, rewarding work, meet new people, earn income anywhere, and create their schedules. This guide provides details on starting and maintaining a cosmetology career, no matter where military life takes you.

Why Cosmetology Can Be a Good Career for a Military Spouse

Cosmetologists will always be in demand, no matter where you are. In fact, salons often abound near military bases. People will always need haircuts and other personal hygiene services, and you can’t outsource them or reliably do them yourself. This reason is partly why the Bureau of Labor Statistics says barber, hairstylist, and cosmetologist careers are projected to grow 8% between 2018 and 2028, which is faster than average for all occupations.

Military spouses also can enjoy other benefits of this career:

Self-employment opportunities
About half of hairdressers, hairstylists, cosmetologists, and barbers are self-employed according to the Professional Beauty Association, meaning the career is flexible, with military spouse license portability being quite simple.

Scheduling flexibility
Many cosmetologists work part-time, nights, and weekends, and it’s possible to arrange your schedule according to your family’s demands.

Short training period
Unlike some careers, cosmetology can be learned through a one- or two-year (or less) vocational program.

How to Transfer Your Cosmetology License

Of course, if you have a cosmetology license, military transfers may require you to meet new licensing requirements, and these vary by state. However, they generally involve some combination of formal education, hands-on training, and successful completion of an exam.

As a licensed cosmetologist who has learned about an impending move, your first step should be to contact the state board of cosmetology in the state to which you’ll be moving. Find out if it accepts license transfers through reciprocity or offers special options for military spouse licensure. When a state offers reciprocity, it means that it has agreements with other individual states that allow you to practice the profession in that state while maintaining your home state license. For example, the Pennsylvania State Board of Cosmetology has reciprocal agreements with 42 states.

Endorsements allow you to obtain a license in your new state without taking that state’s board exams if the state determines that your qualifications are similar enough to its requirements. For instance, Colorado and Florida are two states that will license by endorsement.

Some states have implemented military spouse license portability measures that include streamlined, temporary, or reciprocal licensing, which we’ll cover in the next section of this guide.

In any case, you’ll probably need to request an application to transfer your license, as well as have your home state’s board forward your licensing information to the new state board. Fees and proof of your training and experience may also be required.

If it’s not possible to earn reciprocal or endorsement licensure in your new location, you may be required to take the state board’s written and practical exams. The National-Interstate Council of State Boards of Cosmetology offers a national testing program as well. You likely will be able to transfer your training hours, but you may need to get written verification of these from your home state’s licensing board. In some cases, you may have to earn some additional training hours, depending on your specialty.

If your military move will take you out of the country, the requirements depend on the country where you’ll be living. Some countries may license you immediately based on your existing requirements, whereas others may require you to take tests or earn international certification. The two main international certification boards are CIDESCO and ITEC, which are both based in Europe. Start with an online search for "international qualifications board" or "transfer cosmetology certification to (your destination country)" to start your search for your new country’s requirements.

Reimbursement Programs

According to the Defense-State Liaison Office, 68% of married service members have reported that their spouses’ inability to maintain their careers greatly affects their decision about whether to remain in the military. Fortunately, the issues surrounding military spouse employment and licensures have led to numerous improvements at the state and national level, with the Department of Defense (DoD) working closely with states to pass military spouse–friendly occupational licensing laws.

Currently, seven states have implemented such policies. For example, in Virginia, military spouses are granted extensions of up to five years for meeting license renewal requirements, or they can earn temporary, non-renewable 12-month licenses in certain cases. Twenty other states have seen advancement toward such policies, and two others have introduced bills. Be sure to consult the U.S. Department of Labor’s Military Spouse Interstate License Recognition Options page, which provides a map that offers valuable, at-a-glance license transfer information by state.

Another measure that makes it easier and quicker to find employment as a cosmetologist in a new state is the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act. Through this act, each military service branch offers reimbursement to spouses of up to $1,000 for re-licensure or certification costs that result from military relocations. Each military branch’s requirements for documentation and its process for obtaining this reimbursement varies, so be sure you understand your spouse’s particular branch’s requirements.

Working on Base

For many military spouses who are cosmetologists, working on base is attractive for several reasons: the short commute, the close-knit community, a built-in clientele, job stability, and adding a DoD entity on your résumé, which some people may find beneficial. Not to mention you’re likely to find a high level of acceptance for your frequent relocations, which you may not find as easily among civilian employers.

The Military Spouse Preference Program also gives preferential treatment to military spouses who want to work in vacant DoD civilian positions. You must complete a spouse preference form to be considered. Also, know that anyone who wants to work on a military base must pass a background check and obtain the required security clearance necessary for your particular job by submitting an application to the Office of Personnel Management. Typically, the clearance type for personal care positions should be “Favorable,” which requires that you submit Standard Form 86.

But wanting to work on base doesn’t necessarily mean you can: There are usually more residents than there are open positions, particularly in specialized roles such as cosmetologist, so it may not be possible to work on a base. Here are some tips that may help:

  • Consider volunteering, which could lead to being hired for on-base positions.
  • Many bases offer workshops that help with the on-base job-application process, which can be quite different from that of civilian jobs.
  • Ask for help from your local Civilian Personnel Office or Human Resources office to identify vacancies.

Resources and Organizations for Military Spouses

Whether you’re just considering a cosmetology career or already have your license, military spouses have a number of resources available to assist in making connections and growing your career, including:

National Military Family Association
This association, founded by military wives in 1969, provides a Military Spouse Scholarship to help spouses prepare for careers, the Operation Purple Camp for service members’ children, and news affecting military families.

The USO supports military spouses with numerous resources, including events designed to help you connect to careers and communities, such as networking and Coffee Connection events.

Spouse Education & Career Opportunities (SECO)
This site provides useful career help for military spouses, including career exploration information, individualized career plans, scholarship searches, résumé help, and more. It’s maintained by Military OneSource, a DoD-funded source of resources and support for military members and their families.

Blog Brigade
This blog hosted by Military OneSource provides “from the trenches” insights and useful advice from military spouses all over the world.