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.
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Who: Brittany Harmening
What: Owner of Brittany Harmening Photography; I also am a full-time Reading Specialist at Garfield Park Academy, a non-profit, private special education school that services students with learning, behavioral, and emotional disabilities.
Where: New Jersey
How long have you been in your current role, and what were you doing previously?
I’ve been the owner of my photography company for three years, and a reading specialist for five years. Prior to that, I was a Special Education Teacher at three different schools in four and a half years, a waitress at a local diner on and off for 12 years, and a graduate student.
As a military spouse, what are some of the more unique challenges you’ve had to face when it comes to finding and maintaining employment? Are there any obstacles people might not expect?
Teaching licenses are not easily transferable between different states. With that being said, the relocation conversation two years ago is what led me to start my own photography business — a passion that I turned into a future career hopefully. I wanted something to move with me to help bring in money and pay bills in the chance that I wouldn't get a teaching job right away.
How about misconceptions — are there any false beliefs or stereotypes about what it means to be a military spouse that you’ve encountered, especially as it relates to you professionally?
The one misconception that still boggles my mind is that people think you can just travel and go visit your spouse when they are TDY or deployed. I had a boss, two days after my husband deployed, ask if I could go visit him over spring break. I had to politely reply that it is not typical or safe to visit your spouse when they are deployed. His response was that the area that my husband was in was not too far from a beautiful city with amazing hotels. He suggested I go there and have my husband take a break from his deployment to come join me because it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to visit the area. My husband’s been deployed there twice and will most likely return to the same base for his next deployment. But of course, it’s not the case that I can visit him there.
What has your company done to help with any of these challenges, and in what ways have you felt supported?
Prior to my husband’s deployment, we had the chance to go to a Yellow Ribbon Event in Orlando. We only get four days (sick, personal, etc) for half the year, and they frown greatly upon taking “vacation” during the school year. While typically we plan our vacations around the school calendar, the military does not plan their deployments in the same manner — so you just have to deal with it. I approached my bosses about this event and the reason behind why I was asking to use two of my days for it. They granted me the days and didn’t ask any other questions.
Do you believe your experience as a military spouse has provided you with any unique perspectives or talents that aid you professionally today?
I would like to say that being able to adjust to change (which, with the military, can happen very quickly) has not only helped me in my teaching career, but more so in my own business. I shoot weddings and we all know that plans don't always go according to how we image it. Even with the best timelines and pre-planning for an event, something always happens to throw us off schedule; however, being able to adapt and think quickly on our feet allows us to still be successful.
What’s the one career move you’ve made that you’re most proud of?
Starting my own business.
What about outside of work — how do you most enjoy spending your time?
When I’m not photographing weddings, newborns, or families, I do enjoy taking pictures for fun. My best subjects are my two nephews and our two dogs. I also enjoy spending time with my family and having game nights with my friends.
What’s your #1 piece of advice for women, and especially other military spouses, who are looking for jobs right now?
Stay positive! It’s super frustrating trying to find employment, especially today. It took me three years out of college to get my first teaching job, and I spent hours upon hours mailing resumes and cover letters, filling out online applications, and driving to interviews only to hear back that they went another direction or worse, I never heard back from them — even after sending them a thank you email or letter. But it’s like my most recent fortune cookie said: “All of your hard work will soon be paid off.”
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