When you leave the military, the biggest question is "what's next?" It's a scary job market right now, but the skills you've received in the military make you highly marketable. The Legion sponsors dozens of veterans hiring fairs each year, and our employment experts also provide tips to writing resumes, networking and making a strong impression in the interview process.
The Military Spouse Career Forum and Hiring Our Heroes Job Fair in Washington on Jan. 13 brought together more than 115 employers and veterans service providers, including The American Legion, and more than 1,100 military spouse job-seekers. Samuel Thomas, general manager of Events DC, said the event was — to date — "the largest hiring fair exclusively for military spouses."
One participating group was the recently formed Military Spouse Business Association (MSBA), founded in 2006 to help entrepreneurs in overcoming the difficulties of rebuilding their businesses wherever the military chooses to assign their spouses. Joanna Williamson, the group’s director of business development, said The American Legion played a key role in helping MSBA get the Military Spouses Residency Relief Act passed by Congress.
"To have The American Legion really throw their support and their weight behind us substantiated our credibility," Williamson said. "It meant a lot. It certainly eased the burden that we had to shoulder as military spouses."
The Military Spouse Residency Relief Act essentially applies the same taxation rules that have long-existed for servicemembers to military spouses. Namely, they generally no longer have to pay income taxes to states where they are assigned if those states are not their legal residences.
Williamson recounted how the Legion lobbied at congressional hearings for passage of the bill, which President Obama signed into law on Nov. 11, 2009. "To have The American Legion really step up to the plate for a small group of military spouses dedicated to fixing this issue — like I said, it meant a lot."
The MSBA offers guidance to military spouses on how they can successfully own and operate their own business, despite frequent changes in duty stations. Williamson said her organization shares "the knowledge that we’ve already gained from being business owners. And going through this very odd business cycle that’s particular to military spouses because we have to account for moving our businesses every two to three years. Standard businesses don’t have that."
Steve Gonzalez, assistant director of the Legion’s Economic Division, agreed that military spouses face unique hurdles in the world of employment. "Sometimes, it’s difficult for the husbands and wives of servicemembers to just find a new network or support group that will help them find jobs in their new locations. Even more complicated are the processes many of them have to go through to get relicensed or recertified for their same jobs in different states. Some of the spouses here have had to go through that several times in their professional lives."
Gonzalez said The American Legion strongly supports the hiring of military spouses because it contributes to America’s national security. "When military spouses get jobs, that actually eases the burden of servicemembers. They don’t have to worry as much about their husbands or wives at home while they’re deployed overseas. This is also important because, if spouses have too many problems with their own jobs or careers, servicemembers will leave the military because of it."
Speakers at the career forum included Patty Shinseki, senior advisor for Joining Forces (an initiative to help military families started by Michelle Obama and Jill Biden); Laura Dempsey, senior advisor for military spouse employment at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; and Rob Gordon, DoD’s deputy assistant secretary for military community and family policy.
In the past five months, Shinseki told the crowd that more than 30,000 veterans and military spouses have been hired through the efforts of Joining Forces and that 1,500 companies have pledged to hire another 135,000. She said that military spouses "possess a unique mix of personal strengths. You’re highly skilled and educated. You’re adaptable, you’re responsible, with strong work ethics. You’re effective problem-solvers, you believe in teamwork, you volunteer willingly and develop strong leadership skills through your life experiences.
"Never, ever underestimate your capabilities," Shinseki added. "You have always amazed me with your resilience, your determination and your humanity. We are so proud of you, and can never, ever do enough."
Dempsey, a practicing attorney who has passed the bar in four states during her husband’s military career, said the presence of so many people at the event "sends a powerful message to this country about the value of its military spouses.
"We pack up and move our lives with little or no warning about when or where," Dempsey said. "When there’s no job at our next duty station, we volunteer — at three times the national average. Our unemployment rate may be stuck at 26 percent, our resumes may look like a hodge-podge of jobs. We haven’t slept well in about 10 years now, but not only do we press on, we create and share a wealth of compassion, experience and wisdom. We are the spirit of enterprise."
Gordon talked about the Military Spouse Employment Partnership (MSEP), a collaboration between the Department of Defense and 96 corporate partners to hire the husbands and wives of those who serve America in uniform. The crowd applauded with approval when Gordon announced that 78,147 job openings were listed on the MSEP website (http://www.msepjobs.com)
"We want to compete on the global scene. We have to hire the best talent," Gordon said. "Where is that talent? It’s in our military community. And that’s why these job fairs are important. We have been at war for 10 years. We know that you need assistance in being empowered to find the kinds of not only employment but careers that you seek."
Gordon mentioned the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is sponsoring 100 job fairs for the military community and veterans. The American Legion is also working with the Chamber to host a large number of job fairs this year at Legion posts across the country.
These American Legion-U.S. Chamber of Commerce job fairs for veterans, servicemembers and military spouses will be held in both urban and rural areas. "We have a national network already in place for these kinds of events," Gonzalez said. "And with the Chamber’s support, we’re able to bring in a lot of employers."
Sponsors of the career forum and job fair included the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, NBC Universal, NBC Channel 4 (Washington) and Events DC.