Mistakes Made and Lessons Learned:
A Veteran’s Story of the Post-service Job Hunt
I made the decision to transition out of the active duty Army midway through my second deployment to Afghanistan. My decision was not based on any future career plans that I had developed, but instead based on personal relationships with loved ones that I felt I had lost over the years. I can vividly remember my First Sergeant, Platoon Sergeant and Troop Commander asking me to reconsider. They consistently asked me what my plans were post military, and my response was always that I would find a good job since everyone is supporting veterans these days. This was in 2008/2009, when everyone had a yellow sticker on their car and random strangers would purchase meals for service members if they saw us in public. I assumed that the national sentiment for the military would set me for a role where I could get my foot in the door of a great company. This assumption was my first mistake.
After redeploying back to the states, I attended the mandatory Transition Assistance Program (TAP) at Fort Campbell. The course facilitator had each participant navigate to a MOS skills converter website where we plugged in our MOS code and it would provide civilian related jobs that we would be a good fit for based on our military experience. I was a member of the Signal Corps as a radio operator/maintainer while in the Army, so I assumed that there would be plenty of high paying IT jobs that I would be qualified for. Much to my surprise, the top four positions that came back as a fit for me were Police Officer, Security Guard, Fire Fighter and Satellite/Cable Installer. It was at that moment that I started to second guess my choice of separating from the military. The next day I went down to the Reserve/National Guard recruiter on post and signed up for the Army Reserves so I would have a safety net if things didn’t go as I planned.
Once I finally separated from active duty, I spent the next several months on terminal leave, where I focused on making up for all the time that I thought I had lost while serving. Making up for lost time for me meant going out to bars and clubs and spending my deployment savings on things I didn’t need. After my last Army paycheck ran out, I found myself without a job, no monthly income besides the couple hundred dollars from the Army Reserves, and no real plan for my future. This is the point in which I signed up for unemployment and began working odd jobs for the father of a friend of mine who owned a roofing company.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that scraping shingles off of roofs in 90 degree heat was not something that I wanted to do long-term, so I decided to use my GI Bill and go to college. There are plenty of schools in the Central Ohio area, but I did almost no research into which colleges would be the best fit for me. I had no idea what I wanted to study or what kind of position I wanted once I graduated, so I decided I would pursue a business degree because I thought I could get a job in any industry. One would think after deciding on a degree path that I would begin researching which schools offered the best programs. I decided to pick a school based on location and class size, which for me ultimately ended up being Ohio University.
Having not taken any school based class outside of the military since 2004, I decided that I would work on some of the introductory 100 level general education requirements at one of the local branch campuses of OU. I vividly remember sitting in my Philosophy 101 class as a student in my mid 20’s, surrounded by teenagers and even some high school students. As I pulled out my three ring binder and spiral notebook to begin taking notes, everyone else pulled out their laptops. While I was away in the military and on deployments, the real world did not stop moving and progressing. Technology in the classroom did not really exist when I was in high school, and now I had to learn a whole new way of doing things in the classroom.
I was extremely lucky to form friendships and a study group with several other non-traditional students, including a few other veterans. We obviously stuck out in every class that we attended, so we naturally gathered together and began helping each other through the various challenges that we all faced. Over the next three years, I took the maximum number of classes/hours as recommended by my advisor and pushed forward year-round to try and complete my degree in as little time as possible. In almost exactly 36 months after I began attending college, I became the first member of my immediate family to graduate.
Knowing that there would be thousands of other new college graduates hitting the market and submitting job applications, I decided to begin my career search about 6 months prior to my anticipated degree completion date. This was one of the few good decisions that I made during my transition. The way in which I began applying for jobs unfortunately was not a very good strategy.
I began looking at the corporate careers website for every major company in the Columbus, Ohio area. I completed almost no research about the individual companies, nor did I have a specific type of role in mind that I would pursue. Instead, I sent shotgun blasts of my resume out to any job that I thought I remotely had relevant experience in (sometimes 10-15 for a given company). I also was not aware what corporate titles meant in terms of experience, so I had no issues applying for Director and Manager Roles. My thoughts were, “Hey, I directed and managed soldiers in Afghanistan, so why wouldn’t I be able to direct or manage here in the states?”
As you can imagine, I received no contact from any of the roles that I applied for except for the automated “thanks but no thanks” emails from HR. I was about to graduate from college, was working as a bartender at Buffalo Wild Wings, and had no real career opportunities in the foreseeable future. I had all but given up on my search and began looking at management opportunities within the food service industry. As I was preparing to submit an application for the Buffalo Wild Wings Management Training Program, I received a call from a recruiter at a company called Cardinal Health. This was one of the many organizations that I had applied to, and I honestly had no idea which position she was referring to during my initial screening since I had applied to so many. After multiple rounds of interviews and I’m sure many more mistakes on my end, I was offered an entry level role in Project Management. This was the catalyst for all of the success that I’ve had post military transition, and the reason that I now focus my time and energy on helping other veterans not make the same mistakes that I’ve made.