In Gear Career is a non-profit created by military spouses to benefit career-minded military spouses by promoting military spouses’ professional development and employment. Recently, I partnered with military and civilian spouses in Sigonella to stand up a local In Gear Career chapter. The idea sparked with my Wittenberg Weiner Consulting (WWC) supervisor almost immediately when I began work in late 2011. She and I chatted about ideas, set schedules for connecting with the national In Gear Career director, and ultimately brought together like-minded colleagues and professional acquaintances to kick-off a local Sigonella chapter. Here’s a little more of that story…
After we arrived at our most recent duty station in Sigonella, Italy (Sicily), I struggled with unemployment as a military spouse; I was talking with people on the ground at Sigonella, and I often heard the rumor that the chances of finding professional employment were slim to none. Writing a daily blog offered me a rhythm to fall back on as I searched for employment, so I started The Cinquecento Project. Oh sure, I also used it as a way to keep in touch with my mom; a way to share travel stories with my friends and family; and a way to share food experiences with my foodie friends. Yet, the commitment I made in August 2011 to an activity that required me to create a product on a daily basis also provided me the mental and intellectual stimulation that I was missing.
Luckily for me, opportunity and preparation met up and I gained a job with WWC after two months in Sigonella. I specifically mention ‘opportunity’ because the Sigonella rumors are not based in hyperbole; there are not enough opportunities available for all of the spouses who are qualified to perform and also interested in performing professional work in Sigonella. Thus, timing and luck are unfortunately a key part of finding a professional opening here. Yet, timing and luck are also a key part of finding any job, even in CONUS (Continental United States).
I also mention preparation because I had been networking, revising my resume, and staying on top of my interview skills since April 2011. That preparation led to my resume landing in the right person’s hands; it led to me being prepared to talk about myself professionally during an impromptu phone interview when “the right person” called me out of the blue; and it led to me using my intimate knowledge of my employment and volunteer history to provide evidence that I had the knowledges, skills, and abilities (KSAs) that the position required. Even for a contractor in the government workplace, this is important. If I were applying for a Government Services (GS) position, being able to express my history in terms of KSAs is even more important. Just because I lived through my employment and volunteer experiences, it doesn’t necessarily mean that I would have been able to communicate my history to the job description on the spot. This is where preparation is key. I have been under-prepared in the past, and it has hurt me. Fortunately, my preparation paid off and I have been employed as a contractor since October 2011.
My employment led to standing up the local chapter of In Gear Career because of the incredible people I met along the way. All the members of our contracting team are also enthusiastic In Gear Career members, and we all bring different passions to the group. The intersection of those passions ensures that we attract new spouse members from across professional specialties, across education levels, across services, and across socioeconomic backgrounds. In Gear Career provides free programming, available to anybody who self-selects to attend our events. In Sigonella, we coordinate monthly Coffee Talks, Lunch and Learns (or Learn and then Lunch, sometimes), Networking Socials and more. At the Coffee Talks, we start the conversation with an article about professional work, whether it be how parents deal with childcare costs, or a new article about leadership from LinkedIn, and then let the conversation follow the interests of the members present. The Lunch and Learns are geared more toward professional development, such as updating resumes, creating and using a LinkedIn profile, and public speaking. Our Networking Socials encourage spouses to interact and build the network of professional contacts that are key to maintaining a career arc while married into the military life.
Networking is a key piece of every profession and we welcome spouses at any point in their professional career. We welcome spouses who are current students, spouses actively working part-time or full-time, spouses who are taking a break from a career to be a stay-at-home parent or for any other reason, and even active duty military members who are about to transition into a civilian career. By meeting each other and learning about the professional communities in our midst, we magnify the power of the military network. Already, I know my husband’s colleagues in bases from Europe to Japan, from the Bremerton, Washington to Newport, Rhode Island. Just think how powerful my own professional network would be if I knew professional spouses in all of those locations. Next, think how powerful a military spouse professional network would be if I could share my network with you, and vice versa. THAT is the goal of In Gear Career, and that is why we are focused on outreach in Sigonella.
Last Thursday, March 28th, we had a Networking Social at Sigonella. We had a great turnout and the post-event buzz seems largely positive. A local photographer, Ed Lucio, provided a studio for complementary headshots. Ed volunteered his services and even provided touch-ups without being asked. His professional photos are a great resource for a professional blog, LinkedIn profile, and more. Here is the headshot Ed provided me two days after the event:
The event also featured a keynote address by WWC President, Lauren Weiner and WWC Chief of Staff and Director of OCONUS Practice, Heidi Snell. Lauren and Heidi talked about what qualities they look for on military spouse resumes; as of March 2013, WWC hired 121 military spouses in Sigonella and Naples, Italy since it opened its doors in 2004. The crowd of about 35 community members responded with enthusiasm, curiosity, and anecdotal contributions to what worked for their resumes.
Me, introducing In Gear Career to the attendees.
From left: Lauren Weiner, President WWC; Jennifer Simpson, WWC Sigonella Supervisor, In Gear Career Sigonella Events Coordinator; Jessica Lewarne, WWC Sigonella Senior Analyst, In Gear Career Sigonella Public Relations/Marketing Director; Debra Gray, WWC Sigonella Analyst, In Gear Career Sigonella Membership Coordinator; Jill Warning, WWC Sigonella Senior Analyst, In Gear Career Sigonella President; Marta McClintock, WWC Sigonella Analyst, In Gear Career Sigonella Executive Treasurer/Secretary. Not pictured, Katharaine Walton, WWC Sigonella Senior Analyst, In Gear Career Sigonella Member; and Elizabeth Osborn, In Gear Career Sigonella Executive Vice President.
Our plank owners feature many WWC employees, and that has worked well for the intensity that starting a new organization requires. Other active In Gear Career Sigonella members include spouses seeking employment, other contracted (not WWC) employee spouses, GS employee spouses, and entrepreneur spouses. All in all, the work that goes into promoting and developing this organization is demanding and creative, and very rewarding. Please contact IGC.Sigonella@gmail.com with any questions, or talk to us in the comments section.