Not Just Another Milspouse Conference

Thank you to NMSN member, MJ Boice for sharing her biggest takeaways from the 2016 Military Spouse Career Summit….

When career professionals attend a professional development conference of any sort, we typically expect to see the usual suspects and activities. Networking events, resume workshops and key note speakers are the staples that we all come to expect from your run-of-the-mill conventions, and we usually expect to leave with a few new ideas and maybe a contact or two. What you don’t expect are comedy shows, personality assessments, gut-busting laughter or being moved to tears. You don’t expect interactive sessions that breed esprit de corps or speakers whose inspirational stories provide you that laser-focused motivation you’ve been lacking. You also wouldn’t expect an event like this to be centered on two VERY specific facets that are notoriously at odds with one another: Military Spouses and our Careers.

As military spouses, we incur certain challenges that civilian professionals rarely face. Whether it’s gaps in our resumes, moving from job to job or struggling to build a new clientele base after a PCS move, most career-driven military spouses often find themselves frequently under employed or unemployed altogether at a much greater rate than our civilian counterparts.

This was my second year at NMSN’s Annual Military Spouse Career Summit, and to say that my expectations were exceeded would be an understatement. I could write an entire book on each segment, each speaker and each participant I met at the Summit; and the takeaways would be vast. However, I wouldn’t want to give everything away all at once, so here is just a glimpse of the takeaways and epiphanies that YOU could experience when YOU attend next year!

Business Boot Camp
Day one was a Business Boot Camp, geared specifically to providing the much needed knowledge to grow our business mind-set as a mil-spouse. We learned to look Beyond the Business Plan, where Bob Smith and Emily McMahan showed us about the inner workings of developing a start-up and uncovering the value of our ideas. We also heard from the former director of the Freddie Mac Foundation, who showed us what it takes to be a successful, sustainable and impactful nonprofit. Trish Alegre-Smith showed us how to Star in Our Own Stock Photos, offering this thoughtful nugget: “YOU’RE the talent- So why should anyone else be in your social media, website or promotional photos?”

My biggest takeaway from the Business Boot Camp session, though, was on Building an Engaged Online Community. I’ve done fairly well in terms of engagement on social media, but after hearing from Vina Sananikone of the Eat Good Food Group, I began looking at branding strategy from a whole new perspective! Instead of relying on organic success, I learned how to strategically design my social media presence on any platform in order to cater to my target demographic. I’m not an entrepreneur, but this type of engagement helps our personal brand as well!

Networking Event
Since last year’s networking event was such an eye-opening experience, I decided to make it a family affair this time around and brought my husband along with me to join in the experience. He wasn’t the only service member there either! I learned at last year’s summit that it’s never too soon to begin preparing for transition from military service, and that the ‘team approach’ is the best way to ensure that it will be a bit less bumpy. If we all were to stop and think about it, we would have to admit that it only makes sense to approach transition as a team just as we approach military life as a team.

After networking with the rest of the Summit’s cohorts and enjoying some fantastic food, we enjoyed some much needed laughs from Mae Brayton, a graduate of Armed Services Arts Partnership’s comedy program. This was followed by a panel discussion, where the Founder and President of NMSN Sue Hoppin, moderated a candid talk on the topic of transition. There was something about the very informal vibe that was felt throughout the discussion that engaged the service members in the crowd and allowed significant buy-in to occur. I don’t have to tell YOU how difficult that could be in a room full of strangers, but the Summit isn’t your typical event.  My husband left feeling a little less worried about transition, and at the same time realized that having only 24 months left in service means he should probably get working on some preparation.

Career Success Toolkit

Perspective was the theme on day two of the Summit. We received an update on military spouse employment initiatives and learned how to further create and sustain a career path by leveraging employment trends and worked on a few ‘scenarios’ as practice.

One activity in particular produced some peculiar results. Participants were asked to approach a discussion panel on stage and attempt to elicit interest from a potential employer during a mock informational interview, or attempt to successfully set salary requirements in a mock negotiation. In both scenarios, several participants had a difficult time saying “this is what I want”.

It was through watching and participating in these mock scenarios that the spouses at the summit began coaching one another through them. They started rooting for each other and applauding when they finally were successful in their efforts. It was such a wonderful display of camaraderie, and that was just the beginning.

We also heard from Bonnie Carroll. Maybe you know her through her great work with TAPS. Maybe you’ve seen those pictures of her in your Facebook or Twitter newsfeed when she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom last year. Either way, Bonnie Carroll embodies that elusive grit that we all talk about and want to emulate and she came and told us about her inspirational journey of resilience; and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house as we all stood up and applauded this wonderful military spouse and advocate.

Speaking of tears, there was another amazing and unexpected phenomenon that occurred that day at the Summit. Somewhere between the much needed session on Work Place Communications and becoming better listeners, and learning more on how to be our most authentic and powerful self through a public arts project called the Courage Formula, something amazing happened. Participants began telling everyone their truths. Attendees began detailing their struggles, their tribulations and their triumphs. Many attributed their successes to having attended previous NMSN Summits. Many relayed how they are now truly inspired and confident that they can succeed. One spouse in particular came all the way from St. Louis to attend. She didn’t know a soul when she had first arrived and she was moved to tears when she explained that she wasn’t just leaving with new contacts; she was leaving with friends. As people were telling their stories, you could tell that the room was closing ranks. The camaraderie was palpable and the strangers that met each other for the first time the day before were now sharing their deepest concerns and truths in a front of a room full of family.

I spoke with Sue Hoppin, who spearheaded and created this initiative. “I’m humbled that all of these women felt safe enough to do that. The feedback that we received all centered on the level of safety that they felt.”

Trust is the most crucial element of safety disclosure is the ultimate outcome of that level of trust. What that tells me, and what sets NMSN’s Annual Summit apart from other career initiatives, is that the Summit not only caters to professional growth…but personal growth as well.

I hope you’ll choose to grow with me at this year’s Annual Military Spouse Career Summit.

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