FP l Ten tips for that Marine staff sergeant: Or, what I learned about life on terminal leave


Here’s a response to yesterday’s query from a Marine staff sergeant about what today’s job market it like. It is written by a Marine officer who recently made the leap to the civilian workplace.

1. Learn to market yourself in the language of the business world. Many Marines and veterans struggle with transposing their experiences, i.e. billet accomplishment, into the language of corporate America. The military may not like to call officers and SNCOs “managers” but in the eyes of many in the business world that is exactly what we are. I know we are “leaders,” but don’t be afraid to use the “m word.” As an example, for grunts it often takes some creative thinking to turn a range you planned and coordinated into business verbiage but it’s more than likely that you overcame multiple “budgetary, resource, and manpower issues” just to pull off a single live-fire exercise. It matters. When you are writing your resume it might be worth the time to tailor a resume for each job you want to apply for. Don’t just use a generic resume. Take the extra time to carefully read each job description, responsibilities, etc. and then tailor your resume for that job based on your experiences, deployments, and billets.

2. Do research and find out what companies are actively recruiting veterans. Most companies have recruiters and H.R. specialists devoted entirely to veterans. Reach out to them and find out about recruiting events. For officers MOAA has events that might be worth looking into. For junior officers membership is free. If you are thinking about a federal job remember you must use a federal resume. If you aren’t familiar with federal resumes and/or job descriptions reach out to someone. USAJOBS.gov is still a cumbersome website but it is getting better.

3. Having a clearance is huge. It means a company spending less money than someone without one and the fact you can get to work faster is a strong selling point. Get a JPAS letter from your S-2 and be sure to include your security clearance level and dates on your resume. It is a must if you want to transition to the contracting or government consulting world.

4. While you are still in uniform use tuition assistance to take self-paced Microsoft Office certifications. It would look a lot better on a resume if you had a certification with Excel and PowerPoint that just listing you are “proficient.” The business world revolves around Excel and PowerPoint and no matter how many rosters and live-fire confirmation briefs you made you probably aren’t anywhere near as skilled as you think you are. Completing the certifications while still on active-duty can save you a lot of money. Also, look into courses for SharePoint, Photoshop, etc.

5. Try and get strong letters of recommendations from someone who can truly speak to your ability. Your company commander or battalion commander might not be the best person despite their rank. Also, if you list someone as a reference please make sure they are aware of it. Sounds obvious but you would be surprised. Companies do call your references so make sure anyone you list has your most up-to-date resume, billet, etc. information handy.

6. Market you ability to learn quickly and adapt, work in a fast-paced environment, and strong work ethic assuming you have those things. A lot of companies are willing to hire veterans in entry level positions because of the aforementioned abilities and capabilities and teach you what they need you to know. You may have to sell your potential not necessarily what you did in the past. Even after ten years at war, a lot of people still have no understanding of the military structure, so be sure to explain your billet and responsibilities and, relating back to my second point, how they relate to the job you are applying to.

7. Be humble! As an officer or SNCO you may have to start in an entry-level position. If you really are as good as you say you are then your ability will speak for itself and you will do good things and rise to the top. It might be hard and incredibly frustrating being the junior guy or girl in a four man team when you were a former company commander or platoon sergeant but you need to be prepared for that possibility and accepting of it. Just perform and hopefully you will be awarded accordingly. Also, if there is any idea or sense of entitlement because of your service then it needs to be dropped. People can sense it and while your service is something to be proud but don’t let it lead to being condescending. There is a lot of competition in the job market and you have to prove yourself all over again.

8. Network. This can’t be stressed enough. Talk to former Marines and veterans and find out what worked for them when they transitioned to the private sector. I would even cold call someone or e-mail them even if you don’t know them personally but you know they are a veteran or former Marine. Marines are always willing to take care of each other. At least that was my experience. Employee referrals can go a long way. Reach out to former commanders that you know are no longer in uniform. A friend of a friend could mean a job.

9. Be patient. You more than likely won’t find a position right away. Have a financial plan in place in the event that you cannot find a job. Don’t count out the Reserves either. The Marine Corps is really hurting for infantry officers and SNCOs in the Reserves. Just having the drill weekend pay check once a month could help ease your financial situation and buy you some more time. The other great thing about the Reserves is networking. Talk to your peers if you do transition and find out what they do. There is a wealth of knowledge, experience, and opportunity in the Reserves.

10. If you are going to use the GI Bill right away then have a plan of attack. I can’t tell you how many times I asked Marines that were transiting what their plan was and it was to just “go back to school.” Not acceptable. Work with the school you want to apply to and find out what assistance they have for veterans. The UNC, California, and Texas schools systems have outstanding opportunities. There is an article in the New York Times about Columbia’s outreach to veterans. Also, odds are that your SAT/ACT scores are out of date so start studying now while you are still in uniform and getting a pay check. Depending on operational tempo do not wait until you EAS to make a plan. By that point you are way behind schedule. You can get free SAT/ACT study guides while on active-duty from the learning resource and career centers. Command permitting, you could even use tuition assistance for an EMT course, etc. Take SEPS/TAPS early and use the resources provided. Don’t take it two weeks before you EAS. There is a lot of vocational training and resources that you won’t have once you EAS.

The author is a former active duty Marine infantry officer recently hired by a Fortune 500 consulting firm. He is now a Reservist. The views of the writer represent the individual and not the views of the United States Marine Corps of the Department of Defense.

By Sydney Farrar
Best Defense guest advice columnist
Posted By Thomas E. Ricks
Tuesday, November 15, 2011

FP l Ten tips for that Marine staff sergeant: Or, what I learned about life on terminal leave

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