I haven’t posted a book chapter in a while, and as I make edits on my forthcoming book, I’d like to get certain chapters out there. I’m focused on sharing those that don’t apply almost exclusively to military spouses, since I know I have non-spouse readers as well.
I hope you can learn a thing or two from this chapter, which is aptly titled based on my own job-hunt experiences. The chapter begins with a little story about my job search when I first moved to DC, where I thought I had found my dream career opportunity:
It was Round Four of interviews at a prestigious advertising and political consulting agency in Washington, DC. The building was in Georgetown, at the waterfront. The inside was like a glass-ceilinged loft, industrial and spacious, with the sun gleaming onto the concrete floors.
Help! I’m Unemployed!
I had this. My background was in media and politics. I had my Masters degree. They kept bringing me back for interviews. They obviously saw something in me.
I wore the outfit I had purchased when we first moved to Virginia. I had a job interview the very next day, but all of my clothing was in boxes that had yet to make their way to Virginia from Ohio. So that night, Kevin took me to Banana Republic and I purchased a white jacket, yellow blouse, and blue dress pants. It was summery but still professional, and just what I needed. I felt perfect.
As I walked into the room, I sat down in front of two women who didn’t seem much older than myself. They were DC-polished: hair dyed blonde, tied back, with just the right amount of makeup to look like they were trying, but not too hard. They wore blouses and skirts, and smiled broad, white, smiles when I came in. They seemed like my sorority sisters, in all honesty. Although I had left my sorority because I grew to hate it, I supposed this wasn’t too bad. At least they seemed familiar. They introduced themselves as Sara and Mia (names changed).
They began with that fateful question, “Tell me a bit about yourself.” It’s that question that I will never answer the same way again. “Well, I just moved here from Ohio. This is my husband’s next assignment. He’s in the Air Force…” What I said thereafter doesn’t matter. Because once I uttered those words, their faces glazed over.
“Oh, military. So how long are you here for?” Sara asked.
“I mean, at least four years. Possibly more,” I nervously responded, realizing what I had just confessed to.
Mia and Sarah looked at one another.
“So four years, possibly,” Mia urged me on.
“Yes. Maybe more,” I reiterated.
Then I knew. It was a sticking point. This was only confirmed later, when Sara explained that the company promotes from within. Everyone starts as an Associate, and can be promoted after 3 years of committed work. That’s how one of the VP’s started. Well great, I thought to myself.
I left the interview discouraged, but convinced that maybe the fourth time was a charm. It wasn’t. The HR Manager, emailed me to say that I did not get the position. After my fourth rejection, and repeated efforts just to get to their offices, I decided to go all in and ask the dreaded question, “What did I do wrong? What could I do better next time?”
Stephanie responded with tact and brevity: “Dear Jill, You did NOTHING wrong. I wouldn’t change a thing about the way you interviewed. It just wasn’t a good fit. I’ll let you know if something else opens up, if you would like. I know that would be the fifth time we bring you in, but I can keep you posted.”
I didn’t respond. I was done.
What the Hell Happened?
When I began to work in military spouse employment, I learned what had happened. I was able to make sense of being brought back five times for interviews, only to have everything come to a screeching halt when I told them I was a military spouse.
Legally, companies cannot indicate that your military spouse status prohibited them from hiring you. However, it is enough to keep them from offering you employment. They can always find other excuses as to why you didn’t get the job. That doesn’t change the fact that it’s often very clear when you haven’t been hired because of your, well, marital situation.
All too often, if your resume reflects that you are a spouse, you simply will not get an interview. It is a depressing but realistic fact that I came to realize in my work at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes. As much as we wish to believe that our nation’s companies support military families, many simply don’t. There are a few that have made the commitment to help military spouses find employment. The majority see doing so as a huge risk they are unwilling to take….
Keep an eye out for more in a forthcoming blog post!