A January job fair in Washington, D.C., brought home a point for Air Force wife Emily Waterlander that some military spouses never fully realize: Many people face similar challenges in trying to pursue their dream careers while married to a service member.
The simple realization that they're not alone often can be a big help because a job search can be a lonely, frustrating struggle.
"Being in that room with that many military spouses — men and women of all ages, some just out of college and some in the workplace for years — was encouraging. There's this group of people who all have this thing in common," said Waterlander, 26, who moved to Washington in August with her husband of three years, an Air Force lieutenant.
The 1,300 people who attended the job fair sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have career aspirations, not to mention the need to help their military family's finances.
Yet that career path can take detours, as spouses leave jobs to move to new locations. Too often, just getting a job is a challenge, much less landing a dream job in a particular career field.
The Washington area may have jobs and job opportunities, but it's big and sprawling — not a close-knit military community like many areas near installations.
"Networking is not one of my strengths," Waterlander said. "The job fair and workshops here offered me an opportunity to do that."
For example, a "dependable strengths" workshop gave her a "concrete script" to use in job interviews and helped her look at her own strengths in different ways, she said.
She also made contacts with experts in nonprofit organizations who will help her explore more avenues in her field of interest, international affairs. She's doing an internship on Capitol Hill, and is looking for a job there or with a nonprofit group.
A range of employers — among them SAIC, Siemens, FedEx, Bank of America, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pentagon Federal Credit Union, Sittercity and George Mason University — were among the more than 100 businesses with booths at the job fair.
Manny Espinoza, an associate at Booz Allen Hamilton, said he was struck by the diverse background of spouses. "We met artists, interior designers, intelligence analysts, attorneys — the complete run of the spectrum," he said.
The job fair and workshops were sponsored by the chamber through its Hiring our Heroes initiative. Several dozen similar events over the next few months are on tap on or near military bases around the country and overseas.
Waterlander drew encourage-ment from the effort to help spouses connect with employers and other resources.
"This group understands what we're going through," she said. "They want to help us, and they want to hire us. I really appreciated that."