“Having A Meaningful Career As A Military Spouse Is So Much More Complicated Than ‘Making the Most of Things.'”

Working military spouse Katelyn Mcilvaine says she leaned on her

NextGen MilSpouse is going beyond traditional career tips and tricks for military spouses! We are sharing the real stories of working military spouses (just like you!) and their professional success stories on Wednesdays. 

Working military spouse Katelyn Mcilvaine says she leaned on her "small council" of supporters when reentering the workforce. "...they provided me with the encouragement I needed to put myself out there again. Having spent the last 3 years traveling Europe and having babies, I felt like a fraud reentering the workplace."

Name: Katelyn McIlvaine

Years as a military spouse:

Almost 10 years

Tell us your job title/profession:

In late 2013, I found a home doing legislative advocacy and communications at the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps. The Sea Cadet program is a nonprofit and the Navy’s official youth program.

But even more than learning how to wear a Navy uniform and how to march, Sea Cadets are taught how to be responsible and disciplined and how to lead a group of their peers.

Now, as the communications director, I am moved by their stories of growth and how much of it they attribute to the program. I feel like I have the best job in the organization because I get to be its storyteller.

Is this full-time, part-time, hourly, contract or freelance work?


How long have you been working in this career field?

10 years

Do you work in an office, telecommute from home (or Starbucks), or a little bit of both?

Since PCSing away from D.C., I telecommute from home.

Tell us one thing you love about your job.

I like working for a nonprofit because I feel good about the mission. Late nights and long weekends have a purpose – I am getting the word out about a cause I believe in.

How did you get this position? Was it a resume, referral, job fair? Spill your magic.

I found out about the position through a friend and former colleague of mine. I sent her an email to see if she had heard of any positions that might match my skill-sets. She had a friend who was getting ready to leave his position as legislative advocate at the Naval Sea Cadet Corps. They were looking for his replacement and also someone who could brings strategic communications skills to the organization. She introduced us and we hit it off. A couple interviews later, I got the offer!

What is your No. 1 tip for a military spouse on the hunt for a job?

It’s hard to nail it down to one thing, but for me, it’s to avoid gaps in my resume.

I stopped working for about 3 years while we had 2 babies and lived overseas. When we moved to D.C., it took a lot of effort to pump myself up enough to re-join the workforce.

It can be done – but it required a lot of outside encouragement and some mental gymnastics on my part!

How do you feel about failure?

Well, I hate it! But unlike when I was just starting out, I now have enough experience to know that failure is where you learn. I cringe thinking about some of my career missteps from when I was first starting out, but none of them got me fired (!) and all of them made me into the professional I am now.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced while trying to maintain a career while living the military lifestyle?

Lack of upward mobility is one of the biggest challenges military spouses face. As everyone knows, frequent moves are often required in order for the service member to remain competitive at promotion time. (We’ve moved 5 times in 9 years.) Moving every 2 or 3 years makes it difficult for spouses to find meaningful employment and even more difficult to stay with an organization long enough to be upwardly mobile.

There are very few employment opportunities for spouses overseas because of agreements with our host countries that limit our ability to get jobs on the economy. The system makes most families choose – the service member’s career or the spouse’s. It shouldn’t be that way in 2017.

Are you looking to connect with career-minded military spouses? Join one of In Gear Career’s 20+ local chapters around the world. In Gear Career is a part of Hiring Our Heroes and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

What is the best piece of career advice you’ve ever received? Tell us the worst too, while you’re at it.

“It’s all about connections.” The best way to get a job isn’t through the black hole of an online application; it’s through someone you know. Cultivate meaningful relationships with people, do your best to maintain them, and never, ever burn bridges.

The “worst advice” isn’t really that, but I have heard it a lot when talking about military spouse employment: “Bloom where you’re planted.”

Having a meaningful career as a military spouse is so much more complicated than ‘making the most of things.’

Acknowledging the difficulties the military places on spouses is important and as a spouse, you need to be more proactive in protecting your career than that phrase suggests to me. I’m not planted anywhere. Within the framework of the Navy, my husband and I work hard to make informed decisions about our careers and moves.

Who is in your support squad (i.e. spouse, neighbor, bff) and what role do they play in supporting your career?

I call them my “small council.” It’s my husband, sister, and 3 of my very best girlfriends who also have experience being a military spouse.

When we moved back from Germany, and I was starting to look for a job, they provided me with the encouragement I needed to put myself out there again. Having spent the last 3 years traveling Europe and having babies, I felt like a fraud reentering the workplace. They reminded me of all the things inside me that would make me an asset to an organization.

Without their support, I’m not sure I would have gone to that first interview in the right mindset.

Do you and your spouse or partner split household tasks? How do you do it?

We are either 50-50 or a close variation of that depending on what’s going on with the other person’s career. We both travel for work (and obviously he deploys), so it’s hard. It takes 2 dedicated people to make it work.

Favorite app for making the most of your day?

Dropbox – essential for staying collaborative with coworkers when you work remotely.

Must-have song on your productivity playlist?

Anything Beyonce

If you had an extra hour in your day, what would you do with it?

I would ensure I got that workout in.

If you were a superhero, what would be your super power?

Vision – the ability to see things as they could be, rather than what they are.

Are you a working military spouse? Do you want to share your career tips and tricks? Fill out the MilSpouses Who Work It Q&A today. Click here to complete our form. 



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