Veterans and those who love them make no shortage of sacrifices on behalf of this country. But one sacrifice that’s perhaps not as readily acknowledged is the obstacles both veterans and military spouses can face when building out their careers in the civilian realm. This Veteran’s Day, Fairygodboss and Getting Hired asked folks in the veteran and military family community to share the ways this identity has aided and at times impeded them professionally, as well as their No. 1 pieces of advice to fellow military community jobseekers.
Do you believe veterans and their families should have the right to build civilian careers free of obstacles and biases? Show your support and #Pledge4VetFamilies here.
Who: Susan Santoro
What: Owner, Organized31.com
How long have you been in your current role, and what were you doing previously?
I have been blogging for six years. Prior to that I've served both on active duty and in the Air Force Reserves, been a parent educator, a college professor and a patient advocate. I was a Transportation Officer in the Air Force in the 80's, 90's and into the 2000's. It was a traditionally male career field without many female officers at the time. I loved my military career and was successful in it.
I’m also a military spouse, but my husband was actually my military spouse before I was his. I have been a military spouse for 28 years — because yes, I was married at age 10!
What are some of the more unique challenges you’ve had to face specific to being a military spouse when it comes to finding and maintaining employment? Are there any obstacles people might not expect?
Overseas assignments are amazing opportunities, but can make finding a job in your career field difficult or impossible. After I left active duty, I worked as a parent educator and became the department head. We were then assigned to Japan. There were no comparable job opportunities available there. After a year, I was able to teach with a college on-base a few hours a week. That job was related to my career field, but was a very part-time job. After Japan, we were stationed at a semi-remote US base with no positions in my career field available. I then became a distributor for educational children's books, which was a job even farther removed from my career field.
The frequent reassignments can make employers hesitant to hire you. At one point, thanks to the military, we moved five times in six years. Even though I could explain why I kept leaving jobs after less than a year, employers imagined that if they hired me, I'd be there less than a year also and so were hesitant to hire me.
My husband is an Air Force pilot and deployed frequently, which meant I had to find employment and child care that I could manage alone. Each time we moved, I'd have to go through the process of learning the new location and employment opportunities available, while also learning what quality child care options were available. Then I'd apply for jobs, find one and set up child care. When I had to leave the new job after less than a year and start all over again, it became challenging professionally and personally. At that point, I chose to be a full-time stay-at-home mom for several years.
As a veteran, do you believe your military background has provided you with any unique perspectives or talents?
The military teaches (or reinforces your natural proclivities) for discipline, a work ethic, team work, leadership and being able to look at the strategic picture to determine and implement the best tactical moves. You learn to work with people from all backgrounds and with different talents, at all skill levels, so you become a both a skilled team member and leader.
As an organizing blogger, I have to thank the military (and particularly Strategic Air Command, which was the command responsible for the Air Force's nuclear assets during the Cold War) for teaching me to break tasks down into individual sub-tasks to be accomplished in a specific, efficient, effective and safe order. And teaching me to use checklists to ensure that every necessary task is accomplished and in the necessary order.
With each new assignment, I had to learn a new set of responsibilities and learn them pretty quickly. This skill now allows me to approach news challenges fearlessly, determine the critical starting point and skills and then work my way through to accomplishment successfully.
What’s the one career move you’ve made that you’re most proud of?
I've been an organizing blogger for 6 years and am now launching my own professional organizing business with both virtual and in-person organizing services. I'm excited to become a small business owner in my community.
What’s your #1 piece of advice for women, and especially other women veterans, who are looking for jobs right now?
Your professionalism and ability to hold your own with any group of people will be a great asset to you. Think of all the unknown situations you've dealt with, often while not knowing anyone there. Think of all the times you were the only woman on a team and you held your own and succeeded. You will not be intimated in work situations that will intimate your coworkers. That confidence and fearlessness will serve you well in any career field.
What about your No. 1 piece of advice to military spouses?
Consider careers that you can easily move with you to any location. Thanks to the internet you can create your own business and career working online. Embrace that freedom and flexibility.
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