When I decided to go back to college, I thought it was the most sensible thing to do. Unfortunately, my plan for working on a new career got temporarily derailed by the attack on September 11, 2001, which completely stopped me in my tracks. Instead, I decided to join the Air Force, and just like that I was off to basic training. I must admit, there were moments when I questioned my decision. Even during my first deployment to the “Sandbox,” for which I’d volunteered for (crazy, yes), I had many moments when I questioned my sanity. However, what I experienced during that deployment, as well as my future deployments, set my mind at ease — joining the military was one of the best decisions I ever made.
When I made the difficult decision nine years later to separate from the military, I thought I was on a great track for finding the perfect job. I had graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree, and with my experience in the military — combat training, two technical certificates, and a security clearance — I thought companies were going to be begging me to work for them, that big paychecks were going to be a part of the deal.
I was completely and utterly WRONG.
The job opportunities in my area were there, but everything I’ve accomplished in the military, plus my college degrees, didn’t seem to do anything to make my resume more appealing. No one cared about this experience, and I couldn’t figure out why. Months went by, and my full-time job became applying for jobs. I felt like a cat chasing its tail! The problem?
Resources and visibility.
I was not armed with the right resources I needed to find the right job, and I was not visible to companies that were looking for someone with my skills. I had no idea that there were government agencies that have whole departments which solely focus on the needs of women Veterans, offering all kinds of resources to help them find employment. What’s more, there are also several non-profits who have made it their mission to educate the community on the benefits of hiring veterans. They work with military career centers in educating the human resources departments and employment recruiters on how military career field (job) descriptions translate into comparable civilian job descriptions. Basically, they’re teaching civilians military lingo. They also help prepare veterans, before they leave the military, to understand what civilian companies are looking for when hiring.
If you’re a veteran — especially if you’re a woman — the hunt for a job can be difficult. These agencies and organizations proved incredibly helpful to me on my journey, and I know they can make a difference for you on yours.
- U.S Department of Veterans Affairs – Center for Women Veterans (CWV) — This was the first place I should have looked for information. It was created 24 years ago, and their mission is “to advocate for cultural transformation to raise awareness about the service and sacrifice of women Veterans.” They are the information hub for everything a woman in the military needs access to — not just finding employment, but health care, VA benefit information, and a community of people who are there for support.
- Department of Labor — Their Women Veterans Program offers employment training programs and free employment services nationwide. According to their website, a recent study showed that when women Veterans used the employment services provided by the DOL they experienced less of a wage gap than women nonveterans using comparable services. This information makes me quite hopeful, but how many people know about these services? I sure didn’t.
- Veteran Jobs Mission — This is a coalition of 11 companies that have committed to hiring 100,000 Veterans by the year 2020. They offer a downloadable Transition Field Guide that prepares military members with a step-by-step plan beginning 12-18 months before they transition out of the military. What I like about this field guide is that it walks you through what you need to do each step of the way. It’s a map — or a guiding light — on your journey to finding a job that will bring you financial security and, hopefully, a job that you will enjoy.
- LinkedIn for Good — Once you’re armed with the resources, training services, and a community of people that are available to help you prepare for the kind of civilian employment opportunities you want, it’s time to let others know you’re looking for work. We’ve all heard of LinkedIn, right? Well, they’ve created a program specifically for the military and Veterans. This program will help connect you to companies by offering a free one-year access to LinkedIn Premium and LinkedIn Learning. A LinkedIn Premium profile will help you get noticed by recruiters, extend your network, alert you on new jobs that fit with your skills, and make it easy apply for new opportunities. And, with LinkedIn Learning, you have free unlimited access to over 10,000 courses in business, creative, and technology skills, all taught by industry experts. How awesome is that?
I’ve been out of the military for eight years now, and so much has changed about the job market and what’s available for Veterans. It seems that more companies have now realized the benefits of hiring Veterans and what they can offer the company. With all these resources, I feel my web belt is loaded up, my canteen is full, and my boots (or stilettos) have that perfect shine — and I’m ready to take on the job market! Let’s do this — Hoo-rah!
Suzy Suttle Willis is a veteran of the 165th Airlift Wing, Air National Guard, and a Health and Wellness Coach who works with women and veterans to find their true potential through a program that consists of workouts, a nutrition plan, and mindfulness training. Find her on Instagram or Twitter.