“I’m going to make a career change!” I exclaimed while sitting in a restaurant in Seoul, South Korea.
My family and I were about ready to make our ninth move in twenty-one years of my husband’s military service, four of them being international. Instead of finding employment that aligned with my degrees in music and reinventing myself along those lines, this time I meant that I was going to transfer those skills that I had learned in my volunteer service into a job. Voicing this statement out loud was my attempt at not allowing myself to back out of a career change that I knew needed to be accomplished. The moves would be more frequent, now that my husband had earned a higher rank. Frequent moves would allow me less time to establish myself as a professional musician which would usually take a year and a half.
“Wait, what?!” my daughter exclaimed over a grapefruit soju, fried calamari and salty potato fries. She joined my husband and I in a last-night-out with our dear friends. The hot humid July night air was pleasant under the fans and occasional A/C. I closed my eyes to gather my thoughts, smell the familiar blend of aromas and listen to the sounds of laughter, dishes, K-Pop and multiple languages.
Having made that statement months ago, I was now living in the Maryland/DC area facing the reality of the situation. While attending a job fair, one booth stood out like a beacon amidst my own hopelessness. The professionals from the local chapter of Hiring Our Heroes and Military Corps Career Connect (C3) had agreed to work with me on the mental gymnastics that would include rewriting my resume and preparing me for that all-important elevator speech when interviewed: “Tell me about yourself.”
As I sat there, I thought to myself – where should I start? Should I begin with where my career and degrees were supposed to align with music? Should I start with my most recent humanitarian volunteer role? Even though I loved the challenge of the military lifestyle, I knew that this was going to be one of the most important 90 seconds of my life. I decide to explain how I, along with my husband, developed a foreign school’s program in England and how I received a military award as a result.
Being a military spouse, professional experience aside from music had been varied and mostly not paid. From the outside, what looked like a glamorous lifestyle of moving around the world with my husband was a difficult choice with a great deal of sacrifice. When he deployed to combat zones, I had to hold everything else together. This included managing finances, a long list of critical tasks to our family and childcare, most of the time without any family within driving distance.
As I made the transition to the Maryland/DC area, I wondered if a future employer would have any knowledge of the role that the Status of Forces Agreements (SOFA’s) had played in finding employment or paying taxes? How many employers knew that volunteer leadership positions were scarce as well? Unlike some of my friends, I had never experienced the difficulty of having to change certifications every time I moved.
Apparently, these struggles are common for military spouses. According to research done by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2017, military spouse unemployment rate (16%) is about four times higher than the current U.S. unemployment rate of 4.3% (May 2017). The 2017 figure was actually lower than a previous study in 2015 that found 23% of spouses were unemployed. Furthermore, these spouses, overwhelmingly women, have more challenges finding employment much less meaningful employment, with the higher education that they have accomplished.
Fortunately, Hiring Our Heroes program connected me with A-G Associates. The interview for my current job did not start with the 90 second statement. My interview was structured more like a conversation than inquisition, where I was able to explain how I could contribute to the veteran-owned company. I also had the advantage of being able to prove myself in a 6-week paid fellowship provided by the Hiring Our Heroes, Corporate Fellowship Program and Military Corps Career Connect.
I felt elated. This was the one job that I really wanted to work from all the postings that I had viewed. I could see how refining the skills learned from volunteer work could be integrated with creativity from my music background. This amalgamation could positively affect my future and be an asset to A-G Associates as well.