When Did I Become the Dinosaur?

job fair

 I locked myself in my car and came unglued. When did I become obsolete, worthless, and not viable? When did I become the dinosaur in the room?

I had entered the Job Fair so strong and confident. I wore my best suit, tasteful jewelry and makeup. Armed with countless copies of my updated resume and a huge smile, I was ready to meet my future employer and wow them with my arsenal of skills.

How come I left feeling so defeated, like someone had punched me? How come I was sobbing in my car?

 I’m a 43-year-old Military Spouse, who has served proudly beside her husband for 21 years. I have a four year degree and graduated Cum Laude. I was involved in every academic, social and leadership club available at my university. I can do anything you put in front of me.

I just haven’t been paid in dollars for my work. My work has been summed up as a “collection of volunteer hours.” For years I have been told that when I was able to somewhat settle (since we have moved essentially every two years for the past 20) and ready to convert those hours into a career, that employers would jump at the chance to have a Military Spouse employee because of my “adaptability, diverse set of skills, and years of experience in a variety of areas”.

Not so much. At the Job Fair that day I felt like the dinosaur in the room, maybe the bones of the dinosaur. I was one of those women who I took my role as a Military Spouse extremely seriously. I attended all functions. I baked for the sick, new babies or new neighbors. I packed. I unpacked, making ten different homes from Alaska to Turkey.

I took language classes, joined culture liaison groups, made welcome packets, took spouses to seek legal advice, babysat, substitute taught, led Girl Scout and Boy Scout Troops. I was the overseas buyer for Spouse run gift shops, coordinated and decorated for too many military balls and events to list, spent countless hours doing anything and everything to keep Army families happy and strong so that their Soldier could do his or her job to the best of their ability without worry or distractions from home.

At that job fair, things weren’t going well for senior spouses (those age 40 and over, enlisted or officer) like me. Younger spouses had all the essentials that recruiters were looking for — shiny new degrees, training on computer programs.

The Veterans seemed to be doing pretty well too. After all most have or recently had “real” jobs. They have had recent training. They, too, seemed viable to the recruiters.

When recruiters asked me about recent schooling or training, I would explain that I had lots of experience in many other areas. But I couldn’t rattle off three new computer programs I was proficient in or any recent corporate projects I had managed.

The message for my age group was clear and expensive … time to go back to school. But I’m paying for one child in college now with another going within three years. Where am I going to get the funds for me? I don’t qualify for grants or outreach programs presently offered to spouses because of my husband’s age and rank.

So many senior spouses I know have given up on having a civilian career. I could get a million entry-level jobs paying $10 an hour but that’s not what I’m looking for. I want a job that fits, where I can feel viable and get paid for the quality of work I am able and ready to contribute.

My only reason for writing this is to hopefully let employers gain some insight on this little niche of fabulous people who could run a small country or maybe the world if they could just get a chance to shine and really show what they can do right now.

Our generation of senior spouses (40+ year old military enlisted or officer spouses officer) needs the option of having a little OTJ training, someone willing to give us a chance without sending us back to school.

The reality is that all employers have to train their new employees, no matter what skills/recent education they enter with or whether they are 20 or 40 years old. Each employer will have to teach their new employee how to work their company’s actual computer system, their particular customer service policy, their certain management style and expectations.

Senior military spouses that have been active volunteers and leaders in their community don’t need to go back to school to make them a more qualified employee. Senior spouses just need companies to take a leap of faith, hire them and spend a short amount of time training for the specific job they have been hired to do.

If they are serious about their Joining Forces intentions, corporations will find their most valuable potential employee has been the one they have let pass by at the job fairs due to what they deem as a lack of the proper qualifications or credentials. The qualifications and skills are there tenfold, for those willing to take the chance

The resume of a senior spouse may look a little different than the rest but look a little closer next time. You’ll see we senior spouses have the potential to make your business thrive, not ten years from now when we have “grown up” and become more experienced but right here and now because we have the experience already under our belts.

We are not dinosaurs and obsolete. We are smart, witty, creative, flexible, problem solvers who are worthwhile and viable to the work force.

Heather Applegate is an Army spouse currently stationed in the Washington, DC area.  

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  • Guest

    You can take a computer/Microsoft Office class online or at a local community college for less than $300 in most places. You just have to know how to use a computer efficiently these days, no matter how much “experience” you have doing other things. Sorry, it’s the truth!

    • Rquick

      Thats super true. You don’t have to go back to school per say but you def need to update your resume with actual job skills. Learning some new programs can only help and could be fun. I would pick someone with a shiny new degree because they have current knowledge in whatever field and also honestly they will take less money. Getting paid fairly for your quality of work is a dream. So many are unemployed or underemployed. And a masters degree trumps army spouse any day of the week.

  • Guest

    I’m at the age where a lot of my friends have been in a career 5-10 years and are wanting to make a change. They’re all starting at $10 an hour. And most of us started that low exiting college. Too many people have college degrees and companies are making you start at the bottom and pay your dues. I think experience and education more determines how fast you’ll move up, not where you’ll start.

    • Sarah

      I agree, the same way kids coming out of college expecting $50,000 a year jobs are grossly mistaken, so are these spouses who do volunteer work expecting not to start at the bottom and work their way up. Everyone has to pay their dues and while volunteering is great for networking and finding a paying job, nobody is entitled to entering the workforce as anything but entry level.

      • Rquick

        I agree the whole post seems like she thinks shes entitled to whatever job she wants simply by putting her time in as an mil spouse. That since shes older she shouldnt have to start off at the bottom and actually work her way up.

      • Damsel

        The issue is that these spouses aren’t “entering the workforce”. They WERE in the workforce and were more or less forced to leave it due to the military lifestyle.

        It seems like employers view stay-at-home-moms as sitting on the couch, eating bon bons and watching soaps all day while occasionally yelling at the kids. The truth, for a motivated mom, is different. We learn a HUGE list of skills that are highly applicable in the workforce – conflict resolution management, schedule management, bookkeeping, and (possibly the very best one) multitasking, just to name a few. Military spouses just need to be creative in structuring their resumes. Google “mom skills to job skills” or something similar – there are lots of ways to translate what we do into the workforce vocabulary.

      • Tara

        I completely agree Sarah, but I think that the issue is here is having to “enter the workforce at entry level” every two years because you are sort of starting fresh and having to work your way up from the bottom every time you move and don’t have those connections anymore.

        • Sarah

          I can only speak from my own experiences, and I have not had that problem yet with any of our moves. My experience in management gets me management jobs. For Moms, its hard because the same job you did five years ago or even two years ago has probably changed with the times already. The best thing anyone can do is take a class here and there, not even toward a degree, but to keep technology/hard skills up to date.

  • Sarah

    Right, and the same applies to veterans. Any NCO has management skills, they work hard, they work well under pressure, yada yada yada. But, employers still want tangible work related skills. If I am hiring someone that is what I am looking for, proven success on the (paying) job. Not at home or at the pta or frg. I know SAHM’s work hard, but it’s a different kind of work no matter what terms you use to describe the skill set.

  • Lynn

    This is one thing that I’m nervous about. I’ve taken time off from a fast-paced career to stay home with our toddler while we live overseas. Our next 5 or so years will require a lot of hopping around that will make re-entry into that career next to impossible. I’d love to see an article with some advice for what those of us in this position – or any military spouse that has made a commitment to her/his role as you have – can do to find our way back into the workforce in a rewarding way!

    • jacey_eckhart

      Thanks for the idea, Lynn. We are always looking for articles you can use to make your military life a little better. I will add it to our list of upcoming projects!

  • Heather

    Thank you for writing this! I am going through the same thing right now. I am 42 and have devoted my time to my kids and my husbands career as well and now that I am trying to get back in the swing of things, it’s slow going. (I did just graduate from College in ’10 so my degree isn’t old.) I have been working, well below my education level for a company the past three years. Just in the past year I have been trying to get into management, but unfortunately your credentials don’t mean much. A recent management position I applied for I wasn’t even given an interview. When I found out who did get the job it was a young girl (23) I had actually trained in her job!! She has no education, no experience and no more time with the company then I have. Come to find out it’s the computer who picks the interview candidates. So, now i feel defeated and wondering if I had not just wasted the paste three years with a company who plays a dirty game. I understand the need to ‘refresh’ educations and the need to keep up with the latest computer programs etc, but at the same time, I think those of us who are starting out again in the workforce, military spouse or just SAHP do have much to offer.

  • WWR

    Tell the kids to join up and let Uncle Sam pay for their schooling. I did and she spent 4 years in the Navy and now has a masters. You need to get some quick training and take the $10 job for your resume.

  • Dave

    Thank you ladies for your contributions and support…If I had it to do all over again I would not have started a family and put those I love through the drama and emotional stress and loyalty issues and there are many and repetitive…you are being taken for granted just as many of your spouses are…thank you for what you do and how you do it.

  • Captain S

    On the other hand, I work for a non-profit foundation and was pleased to hire two ladies in their fifties to job share a position coordinating our education programs. We have been working togethr for three years. I taught them to use the info systems we use. The best part was not having to explain good manners, how to answer the phone or write a courteous email, how to dress professionally, to arrange functions with refreshments, and best of all how to manage a very conservative budget. Bring on the seasoned ladies! So, I strongly recommend exploring the non-profit sector where the skills you bring might be better appreciated even if the pay is a bit lower.

  • Steph

    I just gladly accepted a $10 entry level job after being home with my children for 4 years. Its called entry level for a reason. I won’t be doing it forever. Its a place to start and adds something relevant to my resume. The spouses who have been home taking care of the family may not realize just how different and how much more competative the job market is. Please, don’t pass up the entry level job just because you think (or it is) beneath you. Sure your worth more than $10/hour, but so are all of the other people applying to that same position. Consider yourself lucky if you’re the one to get it. That entry level position is a foot in the door that leads to better things.

    • Guest


  • Steve Lusk

    I’m sorry to hear your problem but it is not just spouses. I served over 20 years as a combat engineer, I hold 2 engineering degrees (electrical and industrial) with almost 20 years of experience as an engineer including projects like the Tomahawk and F-15. Suddenly, at about age 55 I became unemployable. Why? Because degrees and experience mean nothing against those “shiny new degrees” and youth. Employers do not want to take on the potential burden of age related problems with employees and with the younger crowd they get to train the troop as they want them rather than get a fossilized elder with opinions that may go against the company policy. Anyway, you get the idea. I settled for retirement and a freelance writing carreer as my 3rd carreer choice.

  • Kla

    Aside from community college classes, there are free resources in the library and online that can get your computer skills up to date for nothing. Or, ask those kids your putting through school now. :)

    I’m one of the annoying young kids with shiny degrees and massive student loans everyone is harping on. I’ve been in the work place about five years now and have moved three times and managed to find work in my career field. And yes, a lot of it is luck, but I’ve seen the struggles the “older” work force has with the new specialized software programs (or even basics like word) and see why employers may want to hire me. I’m cheap, flexible/desperate, and can multi task like a pro. Other things I’ve seen be an issue is that everyone wants to be a manager, but the work place is flooded with managers, older experienced people. Too many chiefs and not enough Indians, you know?

  • Military Bride

    I’m having the opposite problem. I’m a young vetran and military spouse and I can’t find a job anywhere. Nobody wants to hire a military spouse because they assume I’ll move. I have thousands of dollars of training, but Air Traffic Controllers are not being accepted here if they are prior military. I can’t even find a 10 dollar an hour job. I feel a little useless. I don’t have a degree because I chose to serve my country, but even the certifications I have are useless. I’m in school now, but even that is a certification so I can get a job to help support my family.

  • Jennifer Childress

    I hear your frusrations. When you talked about your “future boss” during the job fair, you did not mention who you were interviewing with. For each company you appy to, you need to know their background, their policies and what they “sell”. (if you had your lap top computer at the job fair, you’ve could’ve looked up the companies on the internet.) They want you to know a little about them, they need to know if you, as an employee, will make them look good. Also, if you know so much and can even run a country, they figure, “Well, why isn’t she out there running a country?” I wish you luck in your job search.

  • spouse2000

    He served – you did not.