I found my Federal Job (and a new career!)


Posted by Wendy Witherell


I am happy to report that I finally found a job in the Federal Service.  It took six months after we returned from Italy, where I left a job there that I loved, but it was worth the wait.  I ended up taking a reduction in grade (from a GS-12 to a GS-09), but am happy with the decision I made.  It is a new career path for me, and many elements from my past work experience aligned to make me a good candidate for this new position being stood up at a local command here in Washington.

I have to give my husband credit for spotting the vacancy announcement, because I probably would have overlooked it (I was set on getting back into Human Resources).  It was titled “Travel Specialist” and the job description was a little vague.  The main experience the successful candidate needed was:

  •                 Expert knowledge of the Defense Travel System (DTS) (I have used DTS as a traveler; I would not call myself an expert, but I have a working knowledge of the system).
  •                 Expert knowledge of the federal travel regulation (I have used them before when I worked in Human Resources while answering questions for my customers).
  •                 Expert knowledge of the government travel charge card regulations (I have a government travel charge card and worked for a credit card company in my first job out of college; I have also worked in banking as a trainer and assistant manager – I figured that might be relevant).

I applied for the position in July and received the automated e-mail saying my resume had been forwarded to the hiring official for consideration in August.  I did not hear anything else until October, and had given up on the position by then.  I was called for an interview and went in not knowing what to expect.  I was really impressed with the hiring manger and we clicked right off the bat.  It was more like having a conversation with a friend than a job interview.  She told me I was the one interview she had scheduled with someone who had not worked exclusively with DTS as their primary job.  She was more interested in my background with analysis, writing, training, and interpreting regulations – DTS was just a computer system that could be learned.

The command was standing up a travel program for the first time and needed a Travel Program Manager and someone to oversee the Government Travel Charge Card program as well.  She said there was a lot of room for growth in the position and since it was new I would be able to make it my own.  I left the interview extremely excited and feeling like the job was mine.  It was!  I received the offer a week later and started at the end of October.  I am learning so much and absolutely loving the job and the people I work with.  I am on a compressed schedule which allows me to have every other Monday off, and I am able to occasionally tele-work.

I guess the main thing I would like to convey here is that if you are interested in federal employment, be open to applying for positions that you may not have considered before.  Your experience may not be in that field specifically, but perhaps you have other specialties that would be valuable.  Do not rule out a position because you are not an “expert” in that field.  I did not have an “in” by knowing anyone at the command, and I did not work in travel before, but I have a diverse working background that caught someone’s eye and she was willing to hire someone who would need a little training.  The job hunting process can be long and frustrating, but it can work out if you are patient and willing to go out of your comfort zone – you may discover a whole new career that you had not even considered.

Adventures in Paying for “What I Want to be When I Grow Up”

Posted by Brandy Belue on November 29, 2011 at 9:34pm

I recently saw that the Senate cut a large portion of funding to the MyCAA program, and it struck a chord with me.  The MyCAA program has been somewhat underutilized compared to prior years.  I surveyed a few of my fellow military wives’ in school and found that many of them did not know about MyCAA.  I recall my experience with using it was that there was no direct path for utilizing the benefits.  I recently completed my MBA with my husband’s GI Bill entitlement, and getting through the VA’s application process was not clear cut at first either.  After awhile, I got the hang of navigating the red tape and started to find even more funding sources.  In fact, I’ve found so many funding opportunities for spouses to return to school that I believe any spouse who wants to further his/her education should be able to do so without paying full price, and in many cases, without spending any money.  I’d like to share some of the things I’ve learned throughout my higher education adventure.

Once you’ve decided to pursue a higher ed degree, start researching scholarships right away.  A number of schools offer scholarships that are not common knowledge.  Many are offered for the fall-spring semesters and require an application/selection period.  One of my disadvantages was starting my MBA program in the school’s spring semester.  I couldn’t apply for scholarships until I’d been in school almost a year; because of the rapid timeframe for completion of my degree, I couldn’t meet many of the requirements for eligibility for the scholarships.  Had I have planned a little more, I could have started in the fall and been eligible for several scholarships.

I also found out after I’d almost completed my MBA that many Armed Forces units have a scholarship fund for members’ spouses and dependents.  If your spouse is in a well-structured unit, you will find out about these as soon as the unit learns you are pursuing a degree, or maybe even as soon as you PCS into a new unit.  However, some do not provide as much resource information.  If you find yourself looking for funding, contact the human resources portion of your spouse’s unit.  Human resources should be able to provide you with any information about unit scholarships or tell you who could provide you with similar information.

As soon as we PCS’d to Macdill AFB three years ago, I contacted Family Services for career assistance.  I informed the career counselor during my initial meeting that I planned to pursue my MBA while at Macdill; I was trying to better highlight my abilities–I had no idea that Family Services could assist with education.  The career counselor immediately handed me a CD of education funding resources for every kind of degree from a bachelor’s to professional degrees to nursing certificates.  There were so many opportunities that it was overwhelming.  She said that many of the scholarships go unfulfilled because people do not apply for them.  Go see Family Services at your duty station, and ask if there are any funding resources available for pursuing a degree/training/certificate.  Odds are that you will find something useful.

Further into my education, I learned that Military One Source had a few scholarships open to spouses.  The application process for most are simple; they require an essay.  Scour sites like www.military.com and www.militaryonesource.com to see what financial opportunities exist for returning to school.

Sometimes, we as spouses find that to remain flexible, we need additional certifications.  By doing some research through the professional organizations which I am currently seeking certification, I have found that several professional schools offer discounts to military spouses.  For instance, one of the prominent schools for the CFP (Certified Financial Planning) certification, the College of Financial Planning, offers military scholarships, as well as discounted tuition to military spouses.  Membership to professional organizations within your chosen field can also provide discounts to courses, certification testing, and course materials.

When I began my MBA program, there wasn’t a “guide” to applying for or utilizing GI Bill benefits.  Recently, the VA added a very nice overview of GI Bill benefits, tips for choosing which GI Bill benefits are right for you, as well as how to apply to the GI Bill website.  If you have GI Bill benefits available to you or are interested in finding out about transferability, go to the GI Bill website.  Near the bottom of the page, choose Get Started from the Apply for Benefits drop down menu or click here.  You will be taken to a page, “The Road Map to Success” that walks you through the entire process.

One last piece of advice:  finding funding sources for tuition and fees is one step; finding funding for books and supplies can be even more challenging, especially if you are not the active duty service member.  A new concept of renting textbooks has emerged and is rapidly gaining popularity.  Textbook rental companies allow you to rent the textbook for a small fee (say $29.95 for one semester as opposed to $150 for purchase) and return it at the end of the semester.  My favorite site is Chegg.  My MBA cohorts skeptically gave this website a try on campus a year ago.  We were able to rent all of our textbooks for our courses for less than $150, which would have retailed for approximately $700.

I hope I’ve provided you with the incentive to “dig” for higher education funding if you are thinking of pursuing a degree/certification.  I think everyone should be working in a career they love.  I have learned through experience that military spouses face a challenge with taking that dream career to every duty station and understand that we need to be flexible.  Sometimes that requires a little more training; paying for that training should not hold us back.  If you would like further information from some of the opportunities I’ve encountered, feel free to email me.


Comment by Leah Gaunt Roberts on January 18, 2012 at 1:22pm

Brandy- Thanks for posting.  I am about to ETS from the army and my husband is staying in.  We will be moving to Germany this summer.  After seeing an advertisement in my yoga studio for MyCAA I got very excited that this might be an opertunity to get my teaching certification.  After eight years as an Army Officer I got excited about the opertunity to delve into something that I love am pasionate about.  Knowing that the move to Germany, this looked like a great to take this certification with me and teach on the base, especially since I am inticipating some difficulty finding the civilian right job fit or doctorate program for me over there.  I thought, if I have this certification and don’t find the right job, volunteering to teach glasses at the gym on post might be a small to get involved and give to the military community.  I started researching this to find that spouses of O-3s do not qualify to MyCAA.

Like you mentioned, it is frustrating to see that this program is underused.  I do understand the rank limitions on this benefit.  I’m glad that the program exists and there are many women who greatly benefit from it its service.  However, spouses of all ranks are forced to adapt their career as a result of a military move.  Spouses all ranks, education levels, and career experience find themselves in situations where they have to adjust their career and qualifications to those of the area where a PCS takes them.


Thank you for posting the rest of the information, I plan to check them all out :)  Even if they don’t work for me I pass on information to others who can take advantage of some of these amazing benefits.


Comment by Shelly Habeck on January 11, 2012 at 3:39pm

I’m not sure what I want to be when I grow up. I’ve managed to have a successful career while moving every 2-3 years as a military spouse and finding new and interesting things to develop my resume. I am very thankful for that, and with every different employment opportunity I learn new skills and turn in a bit of a new direction. Its exciting but also very nerve-racking because I don’t have clear direction. Its difficult to have clear direction when you’re a military spouse moving often but embrace it and run with it!

MSEP Partner Meeting and Advice from a Partner Firm

Posted by Lauren Weiner

I’m currently on a plane on my way back from the Military Spouse Employment Partnership (MSEP) annual meeting.  My company, along with 23 other companies, was just inducted into the partnership program, bringing the total number of companies to 96 in the partnership.  To be honest, it sounded like the Partnership has had some significant bumps in the road to date, but I met a lot of good people really committed to the spouse hiring cause—many of them focused on professional opportunities for spouses, which was great to hear—and I’m guardedly hopeful that the new version of the website and partnership that they’re working on will be a much better opportunity to bring willing spouses together with employers offering a wide range of job opportunities.


At the meeting, I had a great off-line talk with a woman representing WalMart.  I was thrilled to hear that WalMart is really looking to hire not just front line entry level workers through the MSEP program, but management and corporate office positions as well.  Their understanding of military spouse employment issues, and their willingness to see spouses at all levels of the organization, was heartening.  I had honestly expected to hear the same old, same old from this woman about spouses being great customer service workers, but that wasn’t her focus at all.  She was really looking to bring spouses at every level into the organization.


She said three things that struck me about the things she sees spouses doing “wrong” in their interactions during the recruiting process, and I thought they might start some good discussions with our members.  Hopefully, making some tweaks to these things in your job search will help you land a job a bit more easily—be it with WalMart, another large employer, a small firm, or the government.


The first thing she told me was that some spouses seem to have unreasonable expectations of the hiring process overall.  In particular, she told me that spouses seem to think their first contact with a recruiter—at a hiring fair, in an initial email/phone conversation, or elsewhere—would be the end-all, be-all of the process; that the first contact should automatically end in a job offer if they’re baseline qualified for the position.  In fact, WalMart’s hiring process—and most corporate hiring processes, for that matter—are much more in-depth than that, especially for professional level jobs.  From a hiring fair, you may get a contact person who puts you in touch with a different person to do an initial phone conversation, which in turn yields a conversation with another person in a different office, which may eventually lead to a formal interview, and a second round interview… and on, and on, and on.  That doesn’t mean that you’re getting the run-around; it means that the employer is trying to find the best fit for that position, and they’re working you through their process.  You could drop out of the process at any point because the fit between you and that position isn’t perfect—and that doesn’t mean that you’re not a good fit for the company or for the corporate world overall.  All applicants need to be persistent, and work their way through the corporate recruiting process that is laid out for them.  You have every right to ask them to lay out what the process may look like, to ensure that your expectations and theirs are both reasonable, but certainly you need to expect it to be a process.  And the process may not end with a job offer at that point, but you’ve still made valuable connections that could help with another job within that company or in another company where you might be a better fit.


The second thing that she told me that she struggled with when talking to military spouses (and military veterans, as well) was trying to translate between military speak and corporate speak.    The companies targeting military spouses certainly have to learn the ins and outs of military life—terms like “PCS” shouldn’t flummox them—but to a great extent it is incumbent on you to translate to their corporate-speak, their mindset, to make the conversation run effectively. After all, taking the time to learn their language and spin your background into their check-boxes will more effectively get you to where you want to be—which is hired into a great position.


The last thing she told me was that they often get someone applying for a wide range of positions—from hourly wage, part-time greeter positions to executive level positions—with the exact same resume blanketed out for all positions.  As we’ve talked about before on In Gear, tailoring your resume to the specific requirements of the job is absolutely key.  Even for two accounting positions, you should look to see what the specific stated requirements of the position are, or what the company seems to value (look on their website) and highlight the things you think are important in your background for that particular position and company.  If you don’t, and the same recruiter gets your resume for a slew of different positions, they will probably dismiss you out of hand, even for a job you’re perfect for, because you don’t seem serious about getting good-fit jobs that you’re interested in.  It sends a signal that you’re desperate for A job, ANY job, instead of one that fits well with your career goals and skill sets.

My Promotion Experience in the Federal Government

Posted by Wendy Witherell

I’ve been asked to share my personal experience of being promoted from a GS-05 to a GS-12 in just a little over three years.  My situation was definitely not the norm and I was lucky to enter the federal government when I did.  I was hired as an administrative assistant (GS-05, Step 1) in February of 2008.  We were stationed in Naples, Italy at the time.  I took the job because I wanted to work, and there weren’t many options for spouses there.  I already had a great resume, work background, and education and this was the best job I could get.  This also used up my spousal preference, which I knew nothing about at the time.


Two weeks after I was hired, the command I worked for converted from GS to NSPS (National Security Personnel System).  The idea behind NSPS was pay for performance with no more GS levels or steps.  Instead, there were broad paybands (levels 1, 2, and 3) and fewer job categories (YB, YA, and YC were the basics).  There were also no time-in-grade (TIG) requirements, which meant employees no longer had to wait a year to be promoted.  I won’t get into the specifics because it was repealed in 2010 – there were a lot of problems with the system.  NSPS, however, is what moved me along quickly in the GS world.


My GS-05 was converted to a YB-01 (the technical series).  I made many connections in the command.  After six months in my position, an opening came up in the manpower division for an HR specialist.  The position was categorized as a YA-01 (the analytical series).  The other HR specialist was a spouse I had become friends with and she recommended me to her boss.  I was temporarily promoted into the position for 90 days, which meant I didn’t have to compete for the position since it was temporary.  After the 90 days were up they decided they wanted me permanently in the position.  I had already used my spouse preference, so if the position was advertised in the traditional way, I would be blocked by veterans or other spouses who had not used their preferences yet.


The command was able to do an “internal candidates only” advertisement which meant you had to work for the command already to be considered.  This was a legal option and, of course, I made the cert since I had been doing the job for three months.  By the following August I was promoted to the YA-02 level.  In 2010 NSPS was repealed and we were converting back to the GS system in August of 2010.  All of our positions descriptions (PDs) had to be converted to GS and the level determinded by our Human Resources Service Center (HRSC) is where we were placed in the GS system.  The PD I was assigned to came back classified as a GS-12.  It was a rapid advancement, and both my job and performance were at that level.  I feel like it hurts me, though, when my resume is reviewed by long-time federal employees who may not feel like I have paid my dues.  I was questioned about it during a recent interview because the hiring manager didn’t know how it was possible for me to advance so quickly.  I think it is highly unlikely that I’ll be hired into another GS-12 position.  I will probably have to back-track a little and put in some more time.

My Experience in Federal Employment

Posted by Wendy Witherell

I am a military spouse whose husband just retired from the United States Navy after 30 years of service.  Until April of this year I was also a GS-12 Human Resources (Management) Analyst for a naval command in Naples, Italy.  I know the “ins” and “outs” of government employment, held a wonderful job, and am now unemployed and struggling to find meaningful work.  I broke into a system that is often hard to enter and was let go as soon as my husband had his retirement orders to return to the United States.  Overseas spouses are usually “excepted service” which means our jobs are tied to our spouses’.  When the military member’s job ends, so does the spouse’s.


I am not eligible for the Priority Placement Program (Program S) because my husband retired.  I can qualify for non-competitive appointment under E.O. 12721, which is good for three years after our return stateside, but I might as well be starting from scratch.  My status as a GS-12 with over three years of federal employment does not really get me any upper hand.  My personal experience working in HR for the government is that there is a real problem in getting appointing officials to recognize spouses as professional, career-driven candidates for positions outside of the administrative field.  In fact, that is how I entered the system in the first place, as a low-paid (the lowest salary I had received since the jobs I held while attending college) administrative assistant at the GS-05 level despite my education and work background.  I worked my way up from the inside by networking like crazy.


The command for which I worked wanted to keep me on as a civilian employee under my own contract which would have allowed me to keep my job, and my family to stay in Italy.  Because of my “excepted service” status there was no way to make this happen.  I was an excellent employee there for over three years, and I lost my job because of my status.  E.O. 12721 is only good for spouses returning to the United States after working overseas and cannot be used to apply for jobs outside of the U.S. and its territories.  It was extremely discouraging that my work experience did not count for anything.  Instead, the command ended up hiring a stateside candidate that would take six months to arrive in Naples and pay the extremely high moving expenses associated with getting that employee, when I was already there.


A military spouse is forced to pick up and move frequently which means that finding a professional job/career that pays you in accordance with your education and work experience, and that challenges you, is rare.  It frustrates me to no end that even if you are lucky enough to find the job that meets your requirements there is no guarantee that you will hold it because you are a spouse.  I would love to find federal employment again, but I know how hard it is to get your foot in that door.  I am fortunate that the state of Washington allows spouses who lose their jobs based on their military spouses being transferred to collect unemployment.  In the meantime, I continue to look for a job similar to the one I had, but I fear I am going to have to go backwards in my career (again), and work my way up (again).  It is a frustrating and humbling experience.