Military Spouse and Mom — A Career in the Making

 

Posted by Robin C. Terronez

My Story –

When you’re young and newly married, you truly never know where your life will take you, or how it will all turn out….. you think that you may want “x” number of kids, a great job that sets your career on an incredible path, a perfect marriage. You yearn to discover the secret of finding the balance between kids, family, and career and that you will have enough money to travel to all the places you’ve only thus far dreamed about. After 29 years of marriage, 13 military moves, and three kids who have turned out beautifully and are now grown and gone, I look back and realize, I have lived and experienced all of those desires and my life has given me all of those things I’ve ever wanted – it just all happened in all different kinds of scenarios and absolutely not in the order I had them all planned! It happened one move at a time, one day at a time, without me even realizing that this is exactly what I had envisioned! How did this happen? I lot of positive thinking, a great attitude, flexibility, hard work, and the people we met along the way. I could write a book; however, the focus of this blog entry is about my career as a military spouse, and I hope that those reading will find comfort in knowing that it doesn’t all happen the way we have it planned – sometimes it’s better!

My college and career were put on “hold” due to the birth of our first daughter at the age of 20. I worked full time to put my husband through college (what was I thinking?) even though I had the better grades and maturity at that time. We were poor, lived in a trailer in Oklahoma where we are both from, and plugged along until graduation, when there were no jobs to be found (early 1980’s). A Navy Supply Corps recruiter offered my husband a position in the Navy, and off he went to OCS, leaving me behind with daughter (5), second daughter (3 mos.), and I had just found out I was pregnant with #3. NOT the way I had envisioned my life. I was working full time as a secretary through these first years of marriage to keep necessary health insurance and a steady pay check flowing. I was exhausted all the time with working and the kids – there was no balance – only survival.

 

Through the years, and as we moved each time to some magnificent places within the US, I learned life’s most important lessons from my children. As they grew, I grew. I evolved. I volunteered everywhere, the schools, the Officers Wives Clubs, and I worked when my husband was on shore duty, and reinvented myself with each move, remaining in a non-working status when he was at sea, as my children always came first. They needed the stability of at least one parent at home. I became a renaissance woman of sorts. I had finished my Associate Degree in Monterey, CA, and by the time my youngest two were in high school in Naples, Italy, I pushed myself to get that Bachelor’s Degree. I had attended 6 universities, had supplemented work experience for college credit, and I was the busiest I’d ever been, but I did it. 
Preparing for the “empty nest” was where I was when we moved to Naples, Italy. What would I do once the children left home? Who was I? Of all the odd jobs I had taken, what did that amount to in the real world? Who would hire a military spouse with volunteer work on her resume? I had been the best mom I knew how to be, and I had “no regrets” which was my own secret motto for raising the kids. They had been my mission, my focus. Now what? I hunted for jobs for months. I substituted at the high school, I talked to everyone, I applied for GS jobs, I took classes to apply for federal employment…. Nothing.

Until…… someone took a huge chance on me, and to this day I am forever grateful to her. She saw something in me, that I did not even see in myself, and she hired me over others much more qualified with much more education and experience.  I had no real computer skills, did not know how to “make a folder” (I came from the old school of filing actual papers in a manilla folder), and was not savvy with anything electronic.   The job was a program manager for one of the overseas college offices on base. It paid $11.00 an hour, it wasn’t with the government, but it allowed me to develop the skills needed (and those I didn’t know I had) and to develop my resume. I worked hard, and I wanted to prove to myself that I would be successful, having been given this chance. I tripled enrollments within the first term, and set record enrollments for the college. I invested in great instructors, and was able to put two new career fields on the schedule for others to obtain their degrees overseas. I was assisting military personnel, and the job produced a great personal gain for me in being able to use counseling, and customer service skills (which I learned from being a mom!)  When we returned to the states, I was able to quickly gain employment with a local government contracting company making more than I imagined.  The first question they asked at the interview was “Do you have a degree?” and a beaming “Yes” was the response.  After a year, I was able to land a government position (my resume had grown) and within another year, I was a GS12. And I’m still moving forward…..

I wanted to share these experiences with those of you who are wondering about your career and trying to balance your life. Make priorities and listen to your heart. If you are able to take a chance on someone, do it – you may just change their life. Talk to everyone – let them know many times you want the job. Learn from every experience (even the hard ones) you are given – it may turn out better than you ever imagined it would! You already know what your talents are – use them however you can! Attitude is everything – and a great attitude will take you farther than anything else. Believe in yourself. Put into practice what you teach your children – that they can be anything they want to be, and so can you!

Thank you for sharing in my life and career.

Is Telecommuting Right for You?

 

Posted by Wendy Witherell

 

Professional military spouses often face challenges when it comes to sustaining meaningful careers when they uproot their lives every three to five years in support of their spouses’ military careers.  An option getting more attention lately is that of a “portable” career, which you can take with you wherever you go.  I am not talking about the be-your-own-boss jobs normally associated with military spouses like Pampered Chef, Mary Kay, and Scentsy to name a few, which are all sales-related jobs.  There are challenging, career-centered options out there that will allow you to utilize your education while maintaining consistent employment even as you PCS.

 

One portable career option to consider is telecommuting, or telework, which allows you to work from home while staying connected with the office via phone and computer.  Over the next few weeks I am going to explore many aspects of telecommuting including: whether or not you are a good candidate for telecommuting, the pros and cons of telecommuting, the top telecommuting careers and employers, the best way to find a job/career that allows you to work from home, talking to your current employer about becoming a telecommuter, job sharing options, and resources available to telecommuters.

 

 

Is Telecommuting Right for You?

 

As attractive as working from home sounds, not everyone is cut out for it.  Take the following into consideration:

§  Are you comfortable working on your own for long periods of time with little face-to-face time with others?  Or, are you a person who is motivated by the daily interaction with others in order to thrive in a work environment?  It is not unusual to prefer the office setting with its structure, consistency, people, and separation from the home environment.  Many people need to be out of their houses to feel like they are “at work,” and need the social interaction with co-workers to break up the day.

§  How comfortable are you with using social media and communicating electronically?  It today’s world it seems that everyone is “plugged in” and using popular networks like Facebook and Twitter.  Companies have their own websites and social media pages that ensure they are able to reach the largest customer base possible.  Today’s telecommuters are internet and computer savvy, and use a variety of electronic resources to do their jobs. They can effectively communicate their ideas in writing, and keep up-to-date on the latest trends to understand if/how they can help them in their jobs.

§  Do you have a workspace?  It does not have to be a fancy office, but it should be your own space, preferably with a door you can close, that you can dedicate to work time.  When you are there, you are at work.  Sitting on the couch with your laptop just is not going to cut it.  By having a workspace you are able to separate yourself from everyday home distractions and focus on what you are doing.  There will always be a certain degree of distractions at home that are different from those in an office setting, but where you are going to work each day should not be one of them.

§  Are you easily distracted?  Working from home takes extreme discipline and flexibility.  You should be able to dedicate a certain number of hours each day for work, and then stick to them.  Keep in mind that they may not be “normal” working hours, depending on where you live and where your company is headquartered.  It can be tempting to take care of everyday chores that “will only take a few minutes” like laundry, dishes, or basic cleaning, but you will easily get off track and slow your productivity.  You need to be able to schedule the everyday activities around your work and be vigilant in adhering to the schedule.

 

Can you think of any other considerations?

 

Comment by Kelly Gump on July 28, 2011 at 2:17pm

Telecommuting has been a dream for me for the past 8 years. I knew I wanted to be a stay at home mom but I had also worked very hard to earn a Masters degree right before I got married and I knew I did not want to waste that. People always wonder where I find my opportunities and I tell them it is not hard..they are out there, but you have to LOOK. You also need to be willing, if you find a job you like, to ask if it can be done remotely. Sometimes employers will bend and make changes for the best candidate.

 

I think one other consideration is “are you able to turn work off?” Since work is at home and I can take it with me on my laptop…I need to know when to NOT work. It is too easy to just “check in” and then get sucked into work.

 

Even with that one issue….I would not trade this set up I have for anything! I know my Masters degree has also opened many doors for me since much of the contract work I do requires that level of education. Squeezing in those finals a week before my wedding was the best career move I ever made.

 

Comment by Donna Huneycutt on July 18, 2011 at 12:56pm

I will second what Lauren says.  The time, energy and money saved by avoiding a commute and business dress every day are wonderful, and for someone seeking a portable career, telecommuting is a no-brainer.  We actually had someone who worked for is in Italy on a database who was able to log in from home after she moved stateside and fix database bugs while the end users in Italy slept!

 

What I have found in the seven years of working from home, and in managing people working from home, is that a very robust child care plan needs to be in place for any children living at home in order to provide the same professionalism and focus that you would deliver in an office.  Whether that means a nonworking spouse is minding them, or a nanny, or a grandparent, or day care, you have to have a plan.  In my opinion it’s impossible to do mind your children at the same time that you are giving 100% to your job.

 

Military spouses in particular need reliable and flexible child care in order to work because the active duty spouse is so often unavailable to fill the gaps.  (Come to think of it, single parents do too).

 

Comment by Lauren Weiner on July 18, 2011 at 8:04am

I *love* telecommuting.  For this non-fashionista, the best part is being able to work in sweat pants and a t-shirt when I’m home alone all day.  But it does take a very different set of skills than navigating an office environment, and not everyone can do it.

 

We had a wonderful employee on one of our Europe-based contracts.  She was one of our top performers, and our clients absolutely loved her.  When she PCSed back to the States, we brought her on in a senior company support role, working from her home office.  None of our other company employees were geographically close. Within a couple of months, it became clear to everyone– her most of all– that she was not comfortable in a virtual setting.  She needed the day-to-day interactions of colleagues in an office.  We tried a number of different things to try to recreate the office setting remotely, with phone calls and check-ins, with work from a Starbucks instead of from her home office, etc… but nothing worked as well as keeping her in an office setting.

I end up getting loads more done from my home office than I ever did in my more traditionally set jobs… but that certainly isn’t true for everyone.  I think you have to have the right personality, but you also have to completely love what you’re doing.  When I first PCSed to Europe, I had thoughts of writing a book– which seems to be a common thought among the spouses overseas, for some reason– but I couldn’t get motivated to do it, and I’d end up whiling away the days that I had set aside to research and write.  While it sounded fun, and I’d often thought about writing as a career option before, it just didn’t end up exciting me in the way that my current job does.  So, even if one telecommuting position doesn’t make sense, another might if it really lights a fire under you.

Where’s My Handout?

Posted by Lauren Weiner

 

When I first started my company, I went to a few small business government contracting conferences to see if I could learn more about how to best go about doing business with the government.  At one of the first conferences I attended, we sat down with Hill staffers—people working directly for the members of Congress sitting on the Small Business committees—to discuss the issues facing small business owners in government contracting firms.

 

One man stood up and asserted that the small business procurement programs weren’t working.  He said that he owned a small office supply company with a contract to sell supplies to the government agencies, but that he was unable, despite his small business status, to win government customers away from Staples and Office Max.  Someone asked whether his products cost the same as those at larger stores.  In fact, he charged 2 to 3 times as much for the same Post-It notes, but he was still angry that the government was not buying his more expensive supplies because he was a small business.

 

Now, as a taxpayer, I’m glad that the government isn’t paying 3 times as much for their Post-It notes solely to support small business.  Small businesses do bring a lot to the table.  They are often more nimble, and can provide better customer service or new and unique offerings that large businesses can’t, but there is no added value to anyone in paying a small business 3 times as much for a fungible commodity.  When I heard the Post-It man speak, I dismissed him as a one-off—someone who just didn’t understand the way business worked in the real world.  But I heard the same basic assertion over and over again at all of these conferences.  They all seemed to be some variation on, “I meet the basic qualifications, where’s my handout?” 

 

In fact, the real role of small businesses programs should be to even the playing field by teaching small businesses how to compete, and providing them access to capital or other required services to decrease the barriers to entry.  The objective is to help to tease out what makes small businesses more attractive, responsive and valuable and to overcome the logistical hurdles in their way.

 

So why am I talking about this on a blog for professionally-focused military spouses?

 

I’ve seen some military spouses make the same assertion that the Post-It note man made—that they should be given a job simply for being a military spouse, without regard to whether they bring value beyond their military spouse status.   While employing military spouses is an important goal, this is not and should not be the objective of spouse preference.

 

Military spouses bring a whole lot to the table, especially in a government job.  They are extremely committed to the government/military mission.  They are stellar at multitasking.  They often have had strong careers prior to joining the military community, and bring a new perspective to entrenched problems.  All of that can, and should, be highlighted by a military spouse in an employment search.

 

Targeted programs to help military spouses gain a foothold in portable government career fields are a win/win for everyone.  Training in high-demand fields (procurement, accounting/budgeting, etc) that are necessary on every base and in every government agency makes policy sense on a number of levels.  Training HR professionals in the government to read a non-entry level resume with private-sector work experience to see how they might fit into a government function is a cost-effective way to tap into new talent pools.  All of these things, and more, we hope to do through In Gear.

 

After hearing the Post-It note man and others just like him, I learned a valuable lesson.  To distinguish my firm, I make it a point, when talking to potential government clients or other partner firms, to go through all of the other, more important reasons to hire us over our competitors.  If I bring up our size and ownership at all, it is only to seal the deal (“…and by the way we are a small, women-owned firm”).  I want to make clear that we were better for their needs than our larger competitors—because of our price, our offerings, our more committed workforce, etc—and that was the reason they should hire us.  That they get to check a box in their small business goals is just a bonus in the end.

 

Likewise, in selling themselves to employers, military spouses need to focus on what they uniquely bring to the table, above and beyond the ability to check a preference box.  They need to show that they’re the best qualified for the job.  They shouldn’t be penalized for gaps in their resume, nor for the expectation that they’ll leave a job after only a year or two.  But neither should they be handed a make-work job or one that they’re not qualified for solely because they’re a military spouse.  Today, more than ever, the government has to be conscious of budget constraints.  Investing in our military spouses to make them effective hires as they support their military member is smart policy, and really what I believe most military spouses desire.

Getting a Government Job

 

Posted by Lauren Weiner

 

 A lot of military spouses would love to get a government job.  It really can be the ultimate portable career, especially if you find a career path that is utilized on most military installations.  But I hear over and over from spouses that breaking in to the government system can be daunting.

 

While obtaining government employment is very different than the hiring process for the private sector, if you know how the system works and can effectively navigate the hiring process, you stand a much greater chance of breaking in.  In the coming weeks, we are planning to build our website section on government job seeking, but in the short-term, here are some basic things to keep in mind.

 

1.    Understand the GS system

 

The GS system can be extremely confusing from the outside.  (There are systems other than GS (or “General Schedule”) in the government, but they are generally set up fairly similarly to GS, and the vast majority of the positions in the government at this point are GS, so I’ll focus on those here).  When you look at a job posting or position description, you’ll notice that it is set up as GS-(series)-(grade level).  The numbers after the GS- tell you a lot about the job itself.

 

  •                 Series:  This is reflected as a 4-digit code just after the GS-.  For example, a contracting officer is an 1102.  A management analyst is an 0301.  You can find a list of the government series here:  http://www.opm.gov/fedclass/html/gsseries.asp

 

  •                 Grade:  The 2-digit code that appears after the series reflects the “grade level” of the position.  GS positions are graded from a GS-1 to a GS-15.  (There is also a set of positions above a GS-15, called “Senior Executive Service” or SES; these are very high-level career or political positions with an entirely different set of rules and selection criteria).  Generally, a GS-1-8 is entry-level or administrative, GS-9-12 is “journey” level or a mid-level career position, and a GS-13-15 is senior-level, often with supervisory responsibilities.  Sometimes, a position will be “graded” across multiple GS levels.  For example, a position may be a GS-7-9-11.  These positions allow for forward progress through the grades without competing for the next grade level and are called career ladder positions.  If a position is graded at only one level (e.g. a GS-11), moving into the next grade level will require competition– you will be required to submit a resume for an open posting for a new job at that next level. While salary should never be the sole determiner in your job search, especially for a government job, the following provides an estimate of the base salary you could expect to be offered for each GS grade level (1-15) in all domestic locations: http://www.opm.gov/oca/11tables/html/gs.asp

2.    The GS hiring process

 

The GS system serves a number of public policy purposes beyond just getting the best-qualified person into the position.  There are hiring preferences that allow certain groups of people priority or preference over the general public.  These include veteran’s preference (associated with a “point system” that provides up to 10-point preference to service-disabled veterans), “priority placement” (also called PPP) for current civilian government employees displaced from their jobs due to base closure, Reductions in Force (RIFs), or other similar reasons, and military spouse preference.

 

Generally, resumes are screened—first by an automated computer program, then (possibly) by a HR professional—and qualified resumes are compiled.  If there are no preferential groups (see below) that automatically “trump” the others in the group of qualified applicants, then all of the qualified applicants make the “cert” (certification), which is passed along to the hiring official for review.  That hiring official can then choose to interview a specified subset of those candidates on the cert.

 

The interview process for government positions is extremely regimented, in order not to provide any particular person an unfair advantage.  The candidates are then ranked, and a job offer is made by the HR professional to the person with the highest overall ranking. (Note:  If the hiring official calls you to offer you the job, it is necessarily an informal job offer.  Only the HR official can make you a formal job offer.)

 

If individuals in certain groups—such as priority placement—are deemed qualified, then no other individuals not in that priority group make the cert, even if they are much more qualified for the position.  In other cases, like veterans preference, others without preference can make the cert, but usually cannot be ranked as highly in the hiring official’s review because of the preference points.  Therefore, sometimes the most highly qualified candidates are not eligible to be selected for a position, based solely on the hiring rules.

 

 3.    Know your geographical area

 

In order to target your job search, you need to know what agencies, commands, and offices are within the geographic area of your duty station.  Obviously, some duty stations (like D.C.) will have more non-military options than others.  And, obviously, the command your spouse is attached to may be a good option for a targeted job search.  But many agencies have field offices throughout the US, so you may not be as limited to only DoD jobs as you might think.  Department of Education, Housing and Urban Development, the General Services Administration… all of these agencies (and many more) have regional and local offices that may offer good options for transfer as you PCS.  Likewise, some overarching DoD commands like the Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA) are located throughout the US and Overseas (OCONUS) and may offer some solid career options for military spouses.

 

Once you target one, or a few, agencies to concentrate on, do your research.  Which offices or commands are in your location?  What do the specific offices do?  Who heads them up?  What HR office services them?

 

4.    Tailor your resume

 

This is key!  A successful Federal resume bears almost no resemblance to a standard resume in the private sector.  Pretty much everything you ever learned about resume writing before coming to the government side should be thrown out when writing a Federal resume.  One important similarity, however, is that you should always tailor your resume to each job you apply for, either in government or the private sector.

 

Two of the most important things to remember about Federal resumes:

 

  •                 Key Words:  Federal resumes are generally screened by an automated system before a human being ever reviews them.  The program works by doing a key word search of your resume.  If you have the magic number of key words in your resume, you make it to the next level.  If not, you’re out—even if you’re the perfect fit for the position.  I’ve actually seen a resume make it through the process that said throughout “I have no experience with xxxx” because “xxxx” was a key word.  While I’m not advocating for that approach—it should never have made it through the human being that screened the resume after the computer program—it highlights how important the key word inclusion is. 

 

You can generally figure out at least some of the important key words from the job posting itself.  Go through and highlight any words that pop out at you as descriptors of what the job entails, and make sure you use exactly those words in your resume.  If synonymous words appear for the same general task, use all of those synonyms.  (For example, “I analyzed, evaluated, and calculated the effect of…”).

You can also pull general position descriptions (PDs) from a library of PDs online (from the Army, but applicable generally across the government) at:

https://acpol2.army.mil/fasclass/inbox/default.asp

Include additional key words from these PDs in your resume as you build it, and simply add the additional key words from the individual job posting on top of the already-existing resume you build from the PD(s) in the online PD library.  (The PD for the individual job may not be identical to the PDs on the online library, but they’ll likely be fairly similar if you’re looking at the same series and grade level).

 

  •                 Format:  Formatting for a Federal resume is very different from a private sector one; most Federal resumes I’ve seen are in narrative format and are much longer than a traditional 1-2 page private sector resume.  Again, in the coming weeks we’ll try to get some good examples of Federal resumes posted on this site to assist everyone in writing an effective resume.  Because getting the key words in the resume is so important, I suggest you “kitchen sink” your resume—throw everything in there that you possibly can.  Instead of taking information out of your current Federal resume when applying for a new job, continue to add to it. 

 

Regardless of how long your resume is, however—please, please, please still proofread it for grammar, style, format, and typos!  To the extent you can, think about the person who will end up reading your resume once you get through the screening process.  While most people use a narrative paragraph format, I generally find it better to use a bulleted format on a Federal resume, similar to the format of a private sector resume, so that the HR professional or hiring official can easily pick out the salient points.

 

5.    Think about alternate avenues to Federal employment

 

There’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem to Federal employment.  You need the experience to get in to the system, but you can’t get the experience without getting in to the system!   There are multiple avenues for getting around this, but two are worth mentioning here—Federal internships and employment with Federal contractors.  (If anyone has other suggestions, please post them in the comment section below).

 

  •                 Federal Internships:  There are a number of professional-level internships available in the Federal government.  We will try to compile a list of them on the site (and please let us know if we’ve missed any).  One that bears mentioning here is the Federal Acquisition Internship Coalition.  It is a 3-year program in procurement that starts as a GS-7 procurement specialist, but provides forward progression to a GS-9 after one year, and to a GS-11 after an additional year.  Procurement is a high-demand government career field, and one that is one of the most portable—all agencies and all offices need to buy things, and they need well-trained, certified specialists in government procurement to do so.  Find out more about the program at:  http://www.fai.gov/faic/ 

 

Students.gov also provides an exhaustive list of Federal Internship programs at:

http://www.students.gov/STUGOVWebApp/Public?topicID=79&operatio…

 

  •                 Employment with Federal Contractors:  Many of the functions currently performed in the government are “outsourced” to private companies or non-governmental organizations (NGOs).  A great way to get experience in the Federal marketplace, and make connections with Federal hiring officials, is through positions with these firms.  (And I’m not just saying that because I own one of the firms, I swear!)  Often, you can translate your experience with a Federal agency as a contract employee into direct experience that can be used to land a Federal job—but you may be surprised and find you like working for a contractor better than you would as a direct government hire.  Depending on the firm you work for, there may be strong options for movement throughout the country (or even OCONUS) as you PCS. 

 

 6.    Network, network, network!!

 

As with private employment, networking is incredibly important in government positions.  The hiring process is imperfect—and, no matter how many improvements are made, it probably always will be—and the hiring officials really want to get the best people into their offices quickly and efficiently.  If you can talk to them before they start their hiring process, and show them what a stellar choice you are for their needs, you are much more likely to land a job.  You’re also more likely, just by talking to them, to understand what positions may be upcoming and how to tailor your resume to get through the process.

 

How do you network?  Talk to everyone you can.  Go to social events for your spouse’s command and ask people—especially civilians—what they do.  Go to community meetings.  Volunteer. Get involved in a spouse group on base (and find out what the active duty spouses of each of the members do!).  Join an In Gear community in your geographical area—or start one, we’ll help!—and see what other spouses are doing.  Join the Military Spouse Professionals group on Linked In, or any other group in your field.  Get out there and find as many government employees, or contractor employees, or active duty members, as you possibly can.  And just keep talking!

White House launches major effort to support military families

 

Posted by Stefany Mullinnix

 

The White House on Tuesday launched a national initiative that focuses on the employment, education and wellness of military personnel and their families.

 

First lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden announced the Joining Forces initiative, which knits together a panoply of government agencies, businesses, nonprofit groups and media organizations in an effort to improve the lives of military families. The nonpartisan Center for a New American Security will coordinate the effort, led by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who was relieved of his command in Afghanistan last year over controversial comments about administration officials.

Here is a link for the full article: http://www.govexec.com/story_page.cfm?articleid=47581&dcn=e_gvet

 

Comment by Kelly Gump on May 1, 2011 at 6:17pm

 

I am hopeful this will make a real impact, but again…the focus does not appear to be on professional careers. No matter….I am happy to see some focus on the issue of jobs for military spouses.

 

 

Comment by Haley Uthlaut on April 15, 2011 at 1:19am

I’m really excited about this initiative, it seems to have some real substance to it.  It has been encouraging to see the publicity and support for military families.  There have been quite a few new announcements of companies pledging resources to aid family members.  I haven’t seen too much in the way of employment, however.  It looks like Walmart will allow spouses to transfer to a new store when they PCS and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is going to provide job training.  I think this is better than nothing, but would like to see more!