When Bronze Star recipient Andrea Gillotte, petty officer 2nd class, was discharged from the U.S. Navy in 2009, she almost immediately returned to college under the Post-9/11 GI Bill to finish her bachelor’s degree in mass communications with a specialization in public relations.
But as graduation neared, she couldn’t find a job, despite her schooling and credentials that included training at the Defense Information School and being assigned to Rota naval station in Spain, where she was a radio broadcaster and on-air TV reporter with Armed Services Network Europe.
“I filled out hundreds and hundreds of applications,” she told HR News. “I went through all of the online [job] resources. I attended job fairs. I did everything in my power to find something. I began to struggle tremendously financially and worrying about how I’m going to keep a roof over my head.”
With no prospects in sight, she entered graduate school full time at Middle Tennessee State University. Gillotte, who had worked in the health care field before joining the Navy, earned a master’s certificate in health care management and started working on her master’s degree in strategic leadership.
And she kept sending out resumes, but no one responded.
In June 2012, while attending a job fair and conference in New York City, Gillotte heard about Joining Forces for Women Veterans and Military Spouses Mentoring Plus—or Joining Forces Mentoring Plus (JFMP), for short—a program the Business and Professional Women’s (BPW) Foundation launched in January 2012.
It provides free online career development tools and confidential guidance from mentors and subject-matter experts (SMEs) to female veterans, spouses of military veterans, and wounded warrior caregivers to help them identify and pursue civilian career paths.
Gillotte signed up and, in August 2012, was paired with mentor Abbe Rosenthal, president of Rosenthal Associations International LLC., a consulting and coaching firm. Rosenthal helped Gillotte reshape her resume, taught her to write a cover letter, sent her job leads and taught her how to negotiate a salary. She also helped her to better focus her efforts and leverage her health care background of six years earlier.
Soon Gillotte had three job offers.
“We talked about what each one would mean for my career,” the 32-year-old Gillotte said, calling it one of the most important conversations they had.
“She opened my eyes to some perspectives I never would have thought of—where I [saw] a very nice salary, [the job] may not have been in a position that allowed me to move and grow. Or it was a very nice title … but a very low salary and I would struggle [financially].”
On Veterans Day 2012, three months after entering the program, Gillotte started work as a marketing communication specialist at Nashville-based Qsource, a nonprofit health care and information technology consultancy headquartered in Memphis.
Addressing a Need
There are 2.2 million female veterans in the U.S., and they will make up about 15 percent of all living veterans over the next 20 years. In 2012 the unemployment rate for this group was 8.3 percent—more than 20 percent higher than for male veterans, according to BPW, citing Veterans Administration statistics. Two million women are military spouses, and about 26 percent of them are unemployed.
“Women veterans represent an important, and growing, segment of the U.S. labor force,” noted BPW Foundation CEO Deborah L. Frett in a news release.
The foundation created the JFMP after convening the Joining Forces for Women Veterans Summit in Washington, D.C., in October 2010. The program partners with 55 businesses, such as Booz Allen, Citi and CVS Caremark, to provide female mentors and SMEs from their staffs. The JFMP uses a 10-point matching system to pair mentors and veterans.
“We’re getting phenomenally experienced high-level women who are participating [as mentors and SMEs],” Frett said. “We have grown this systematically to keep this almost a 1-to-1 ratio” of mentor to mentee.
Rhode Island-based CVS partnered with the BPW in 2013 and is using a 15-person pilot program to tap into three of the company’s colleague resource groups.
Each of those groups—Women’s Success Network, Logistics Diversity Leadership Council, and VALOR, a group that focuses on employees in the military and military spouses and supporters—was asked to provide 10 mentors or SMEs to the JFMP in 2013. CVS will expand its JFMP involvement in 2014 to helping military spouses, according to Leslie Reis, senior manager of Workforce Initiatives Development, at CVS.
“We spent a lot of time educating [mentors],” Reis said. “We really wanted to identify some champions within the [CVS] organization to help spread the word.
“It was not an easy undertaking; I want other employers to understand you really have to approach this from a variety of directions in order to get traction,” she said, adding that 2014 will be a time “to build on what we have, and grow.”
The BPW’s Frett noted that 39 percent of JFMP mentees have seen positive progress—completing a resume, accessing professional development, going on job interviews—within the first three months.
Still, there can be unforeseen hurdles.
Coming from the rank-conscious military, veterans “sometimes get intimidated by the mentor’s credentials,” she noted. “We’ve had to educate mentors and mentees around this,” and in some cases, created different mentor-mentee pairings.
The program is “not about getting the job,” Frett told HR News. “It’s about keeping the job, doing well in the job and advancing in the job.”
That’s the case with Staff Sgt. Dawn Smith, who served eight years as an operations supervisor in the U.S. Air Force, with deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan and Quatar.
After being discharged in 2008, she taught school in North Carolina and then worked as a legal assistant at the Internal Revenue Service. Despite two master’s degrees, the 36-year-old single mother of four said she was “really underpaid.”
Her goal was to obtain a higher government ranking—and the higher pay that accompanies it. The government scale ranges from GS-1 to GS-15; Smith was earning $30,000 as a GS-5.
Unable to move up at the IRS, she began searching online for veteran-related programs and had a mentor within three days of signing up for the JFMP.
With her mentor’s help, Smith revamped her resume, translating her military responsibilities into the private-sector equivalent and changing her resume so that she was identified as ‘D. Smith’ instead of Dawn Smith.
In May 2012, within a year of participating in the program, Smith had moved to South Carolina to work for the Defense Contract Audit Agency. Today she is a GS-11; by early 2014 she will be a GS-12, advancing her to the $70,000 salary range. Her mentor is pushing her to apply for a GS-13 supervisor job at the agency. She also advised Smith in starting her herbal-tea business.
The veteran is still surprised at the speed in which her life changed.
“Two years ago I was renting an apartment in North Carolina, not in the best neighborhood,” she said. “Now I own my own home in a nice neighborhood. It’s surreal.”
For employers interested in participating with the JFMP, though, CVS’ Reis advises them to “start slow.”
“All you need is a few champions,” she said, “and word of mouth will spread.”
Kathy Gurchiek is the associate editor for HR News.