Job-Hunting Help for Women Veterans
Thursday, March 08, 2012
By Malini Wilkes
Dawn Smith is an Air Force veteran with masters’ degrees in both business and accounting, but she’s working as a secretary making an annual salary in the low 30’s.
Smith, a 35-year-old single mother, spent more than eight years in the Air Force, deploying to bases in Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkey and Germany. Her specialty is logistics and management—moving cargo and passengers and handling flight schedules and staffing.
But when she returned home to Thomasville, North Carolina, she struggled to find a job that matched her education and abilities.
She thinks it’s partly because she was a woman in a male-dominated field. “People that I’ve trained or that are less qualified than I am are getting jobs, and I’m still baffled by that. We’re in 2012 and this is still going on. It’s sad.”
She finally settled for a secretarial job with the IRS so she could support her four kids, ages two to 17.
It’s not uncommon for veterans to find themselves underemployed, especially women. But Smith wasn’t going give up. She switched her focus to finding a government job in accounting, and last summer she turned to a mentor for support.
Dawn Smith met Sandra Smith (no relation) through the Business and Professional Women’s Foundation (BPWF), a USO partner that pairs mentors with wounded, ill or injured women service members or wounded female troops who've recently transitioned out of the military.
At first she didn’t believe she would get much help. Then Sandra started calling or emailing at least once a week, and Dawn realized she could actually count on her.
“These are really generous people,” she thought, “These people are actually calling me and helping me!”
Sandra offered advice on resume writing and filling out federal job applications to take advantage of veterans’ preferences.
Sandra Smith says many veterans don’t understand how to promote themselves to prospective employers. “You’re in a job market where you have to be able to say—here’s what I did, here’s why I did it well, and here’s how to demonstrate that. But when you talk to veterans, they say – I was just doing my job, Ma’am.”
In the last nine months, Dawn has applied for more than 30 jobs. She’s heard back from about a dozen, and has had four phone interviews for accounting and auditing positions. With Sandra’s assistance, she also developed a business plan and started an online business, marketing her own brand of herbal teas.
With a full time job, a part-time business and a family, Dawn sometimes backslides on filling out applications. She says her sister Cassandra used to push her if she got discouraged. But after Cassandra passed away last June, Dawn says Sandra is giving her that extra nudge.
“My sister used to be on my back about everything. Now I have someone else who says, ‘What have you done this week?’”
Anytime she gets frustrated, Dawn says she hears her mentor’s voice telling her, “Don’t settle for this. You’re worth more than that. Get the job you want and deserve.”
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