For cleared women veterans, it’s not so much a jungle out there as a labyrinth. Even with an active clearance, transitioning into civilian careers can be a challenge for veterans. But women face specific obstacles; a disproportionate number of men compared to women employees in numerous fields, responsibilities on the home front that may delay the job search, and military skills that are sometimes difficult to translate to hiring managers. For those reasons and a host of others, cleared women veterans need a well-crafted job search strategy for getting hired.
Build a board
Kimberly Olson, U.S. Air Force Colonel (retired), and CEO/President of Grace After Fire, recommends building a circle of people to serve as a sort of personal board of directors. Her suggested combination is specific.
“Surround yourself with five characters,” said Olson. “A woman with grey hair or chemically altered grey hair to be a mentor, a young woman for you to mentor, a woman who does not look, talk, act or think like you, one woman you can tell anything to, and finally, an enlightened man.”
Olson’s suggestion is one shared by numerous career coaches, and based on the collective assistance and support that comes from individuals who want to see others succeed and who are willing to share their own ideas, opinions and perspectives. Gaining ground in the job hunt is never about having a good resume. It’s about preparation and confidence when selling that good resume.
Ignore the stats
Given the challenging job market, women veterans are often discouraged by the numbers and choose not to pursue careers dominated by men and those paying top salaries. But most of the statistics they’re seeing are national; they aren’t tailored to fields in which a clearance is a requirement.
For example, women only make up 20 percent of the nation’s software developers. But that number is a national statistic and has less relevance when it comes to cleared software developers. On average, software developers earn a median yearly salary of $71,000. But again, cleared software developers in defense and government sectors earn higher salaries, many above six figures. It’s the same story with computer and information systems managers, who earn median salaries of $80,000 in an industry in which women only make up 29 percent of the profession. But among cleared managers, the salaries and opportunities are both higher.
This is also a good time for women interested in cleared careers with government contractors, as there’s an increasing push for greater gender and cultural diversity, a move largely pushed by women working in this sector.
Nothing but net(working)
Most people would prefer to avoid it, but the truth is, networking works. In fact, failing to network can be the biggest hindrance to successfully getting hired. According to Dr. Celia Szelwach, Founder, Women Veterans Network (WOVEN), the first critical steps in transition involve taking inventory of personal interests and skills, and deciding what you really want to do. The next step is to begin networking in the sectors in which you want to work.
“If you want to apply your military knowledge and make use of your security clearance immediately, then network with military contacts who work for government contractors.”
Outside of industry-specific networking, your board of directors can also be instrumental in boosting the scope of contacts you make and the events you attend to further your network.
Make geography a goal
Statistically, women veterans prefer to find jobs closer to home. They’ve often been away for long periods of time and reconnecting with family is a priority. According to Szelwach, zip codes do matter and they can serve cleared women veterans well.
“When I transitioned, one of my main considerations was relocating near family,” she said. “So geography was a key factor. I also wanted to use my military logistics skills. Once I confirmed my geography, then I networked with my local alumni association and researched as much as I could on my target companies to land a great opportunity with a Fortune 500 company located only 10 minutes from family members. A very deliberate and targeted search effort worked efficiently for me, and since I interviewed 6 months prior to transitioning, I had an offer immediately upon completion of my service commitment.”