Meet the Woman Who’s Solving Military Spouse Unemployment
Leigh Searl, the founder of America’s Career Force, has got a plan.
In 13 years of marriage, Leigh Searl and her husband, Jeffrey, have moved 11 times. “We move to remote locations,” she says. “Right now, we’re in the middle of rural Germany, a long way from anything. When we were in Missouri, we were two hours west of St. Louis—my barometer for civilization is Target, and the closest one was an hour and 20 minutes away.” Between her remote location and frequent moves, it was tough for Leigh to find meaningful work, even with a law degree. “In the areas where we lived, there wasn't anything for me to do and even if there was, by the time I’d get my foot in the door we’d be moving again.” A year and a half ago, Leigh started America's Career Force with the goal of helping other educated, qualified military spouses find jobs they can do from anywhere. “I'm passionate about solving this problem,” she says. “It's been a real struggle for me; it makes me want to devote all my time to it.” She shared with us what she’s learned about solving big problems a little bit at a time and gave us her tips for staying in the game when your spouse is transferred.
1. There’s a solution in sight
“People in my position get further education, thinking it’ll help us get a great job,” she says. “I ended up going back to law school, but a law degree doesn’t always transfer from state to state, so it’s difficult to utilize that.” Finally, she found remote work for several real estate companies. “That’s when I realized that remote jobs are the answer for military spouses. It doesn’t matter where I am as long as I get my work done and I can communicate via the phone and internet.”
2. You don’t get what you don’t ask for
Many companies don’t even think to advertise certain jobs as remote, and many military spouses don’t think to ask about it. “I realized that I could be the one to go to these companies and work with them to determine which positions could be remote, and bridge the gap between those roles and the people who need them.” Leigh looks for remote jobs or calls Fortune 500 companies. “I’ll say, ‘I see you have some HR or account management positions. Can I introduce you to some military spouses who have these qualifications, these degrees, XYZ?’ Then, if they hire them, great. If not, we've made the introduction and we've introduced the company to the idea of remote work.”
3. Education is everything
Leigh’s goal is to get 250,000 military spouses hired; out of a million American military spouses, that’s how many have an undergraduate degree (and beyond). “I want every business in America to find just one job that they could hire for remotely,” she says. “On my part, it’s a matter of getting the word out—hiring managers simply haven’t been educated about the issue of military spouse unemployment.” She talked to a VP of a Fortune 500 company who said she wouldn’t take candidates that don't display longevity on their resumes. “That's the crux of this issue, because we move so much that our resumes don't look normal and we don’t have the opportunity to give them any context,” says Leigh. “It’s not because as employees, we're not loyal; it's because our spouses had to move and we have to move, yet we're still trying to have a career. Hiring managers discard our resumes prior to even understanding why we may have 15 jobs on there within a very short time period, and that’s only if the computer-generated program doesn’t weed them out first.” That’s the disconnect—you wouldn't say on your resume, "I'm a military spouse, so that’s why my resume looks funny."
4. Stay grateful
“I'm setting out to do this because I believe in it; I so want to fix it for them, and not being able to do so is my biggest fear,” she says. “I got an email from someone who had seen a media piece we had done that made them cry. She said, ‘There's light at the end of the tunnel. Thank you for doing what you're doing. You understand my struggle.’” I knew that this was what I was meant to do. “Almost every day, I get an email from someone who’s grateful for what we’re doing,” she says. “It warms my heart and gives me purpose.” Leigh shared her tips for keeping your own career on track when your spouse is transferred—read them here!
Image courtesy of Ivanka Trump. Illustration by Jonny Ruzzo