“Oh my gosh, I was so in love with my job,” says Kimber Hill, an IT specialist and military spouse. It was 2017 and Hill was working for a government contractor that specializes in healthcare technology. She was also about to get married to her high school sweetheart and move to Pensacola, Florida, where her fiancé would train to be an aviator in the U.S. Navy.
Just months prior, Hill had earned a masters degree in information systems and had a pivotal meeting with the CEO of the company where she worked, charting a potential career path for her to become CIO.
But what did that path look like when it took her to a city that was 500 miles away from the nearest government contractor? How would her trajectory shift each time she and her husband were asked to change bases during his 10-year-minimum enlistment? “I started to wonder, who am I? If I am not this career that I’ve been building up, what am I?“
Hill saw her professional trajectory disintegrate before her eyes. Yet, rather than accept defeat, she adapted to her new path. After another long discussion with her boss, Hill arranged a way to continue working for her company, albeit in a slightly different role, remotely.
“But while I was able to retain my position, I quickly found out a lot of other military spouses were not,” she says. Suddenly surrounded by intelligent, educated, underemployed women and men, Hill realized that she might have a different professional calling: Getting active duty military spouses back into the workforce.
High Unemployment Rate Among Military Spouses
According to a 2017 Department of Defense survey, 24% of active duty military spouses are unemployed, a rate six times higher than the nation’s average at that time. And those military spouses who are working reported that they are underemployed. Although some opt for reduced hours, a whopping 31% of military spouses working part-time jobs said that they would rather have full-time employment.
Through organizing coffees, book clubs and other activities as president of the Spouses of Student Aviators Club, Hill got to know people with masters degrees and doctorates who were working minimum wage jobs since they were the only opportunities in town.
“I remember I met an attorney who had just passed the bar before moving to the base,” who suffered from emotional stress due to lack of employment opportunities, she says. “She burst into tears because she couldn’t find remote work. She was supportive of her husband, but she felt like she lacked purpose, that her life was only about her spouse becoming an aviator.”
Hill found herself having nearly identical conversations over and over again.
“You would not believe the amount of military spouses that I talked to,” she says. “I’d ask if they’d ever considered working remotely, working from home, and the response would be, ‘No, I didn’t know that I could do that.’”
Finally, in June 2018, after talking to a group of friends about her experience working virtually, Hill suddenly realized that she should do something about it.
She remembers sitting at a coffee shop one night and telling her friends, “You know what? I think I have an idea. I want to create something where the mission is to serve military spouses and help them find the right remote career while also helping build career pathways.”
The next morning, she created a social media page for VirtForce, a company that connects active duty military spouses to vetted virtual employment opportunities.
Building A Company To Help Others
At first, Hill simply wanted to educate her community about remote work.
The challenge was surfacing legitimate work opportunities. “So I would go to every job board site I could find and compile them into a list I’d post in the online group. Within about 90 days, we were seeing our members posting about getting ‘#hired.’”
But what started as a volunteer side project soon turned into a viable company.
As more and more military spouses were hired, listing VirtForce as their reference, human resources departments started to notice. More than that, they started contacting Hill to see if she could connect them with more military spouses looking for work.
“I was absolutely shocked,” said Hill, recalling getting her first email from the HR department of one of the nation’s top four telecommunications companies in September 2018. “But then I thought, you know what, it really does make sense, because what we’ve done is we’ve built a talent community. Why not go a step further and help these military spouses find more personal relationships with employers?”
Soon the employers started asking Hill to pre-screen résumés and act as a human resource service.
After only three months, Hill hired her first employee — a military spouse, of course, with a background in HR — to help with the newly formed Employment Partnership Program. Hill also created a team of volunteer brand ambassadors to handle membership operations and compile the weekly job list.
“This also served as a way to help military spouses fill potential résumé gaps by giving them work experience and remote team experience,” she said.
Less than two years since its launch, Hill has helped more than 200 spouses get remote work. One of the hires is the lawyer who had struggled to find a job. “We actually place attorneys a lot now,” Hill said. “And CPAs. That’s one of those highly-skilled, highly-credentialed positions that you can do from anywhere in the world.”
Today, Hill does more than just connect military spouses with outside employment opportunities. She has also directly employed multiple military spouses to work at VirtForce. Whether it’s full-time or contract employees, web developers to build the company’s website and job boards or audio producers to record podcasts, Hill exclusively hires from within the community.
The talent pool never ceases to impress.
“When you’re part of the military ecosystem, you’re a part of something bigger than yourself,” Hill said. “It makes you a better team member for an organization looking to hire, because you come in already knowing that we all need to function cohesively. We all need to pull our weight. We all need to do our part or we’re not going to succeed in the mission.”
Buoyed up by her community, she’s started dreaming bigger.
Hill had a check-in with the CEO from her government contracting job last summer, two years after their pivotal meeting. “You remember when I told you I wanted to be a CIO, and that was the direction that I wanted to go in?” Hill asked. “I’m a different person now and that’s not where I am anymore. I want to be a CEO.”
Brought to you by USAA. Proud supporter of the military community. What you’re MADE of, we’re MADE for™. Visit USAA.com to learn more.
USAA means United Services Automobile Association and its Affiliates.
USAA does not officially sponsor or endorse Virtforce or its programs.
This article was paid for by USAA and co-created by RYOT Studio. HuffPost editorial staff did not participate in the creation of this content.