On the morning of May 29th, 2012, I entered the Grand Hyatt Atlanta Buckhead wearing a blue dress shirt, a tie, and slacks. My shoes and belt matched and I was motivated. I even wore my USMC tie clasp as proof. I was taking my first steps into the civilian job market. With everything I'd learned and had been through in the Marines, I was ready. Specifically, I was attending an H2H job fair as well as resume and transition counseling hosted by GE's Veteran's Network.
Ok, let me stop here and inject a dose of reality. I was on post-deployment leave from my last adventure in Afghanistan. While I had decided that I would be getting out, I still had over a year left before my EAS. Even so, I was bound and determined to have a job when the time came to hang up the cammies. My resume, at three pages long, was glorious. I knew it was grand because I wrote it myself. By that, I mean I used a template from about.com, while copying and pasting the beefiest parts of my Fitness Reports. I even included juicy lines and phrases from some of my personal award citations, some I had also written. So my resume was good to go. I brought 20 copies with me to hand out to potential employers although my intent was for practice and exposure to my first job fair. Now back to the world I thought I had a grasp on.
I approached the front table and signed in, grabbing my name tag and informational brochures, pamphlets, etc, and waited for GE to begin their presentation. Dress for Success, Interview Techniques, Callbacks, Questions to Ask, blah, blah, blah. That's not what I was there to listen to. Honestly, I wanted to hear that my resume would make it easy for me to land a job when the time came. The powerpoints ended and I was paired with a former Navy Chief who had an electrical background with the Seabees. We introduced ourselves and after some small talk, he began looking over my resume. It was about that time that I started to feel like I had bitten off more than I could chew. He was silent while he read although the red pen in his right hand was screaming. The 10 minutes he took to mark errors, cross out portions and phrases, and draw squiggles all over my resume seemed to take forever. He finished and went over his suggestions which I found to be a huge pill to swallow. Keep in mind that I'm an intelligence analyst with a 127 GT score. I know I'm a smart person and yet he made me feel like a freshman in high school. Overall, my resume had no direction, it was completely unreadable by anyone outside the Marine Corps aviation intelligence community, and didn't accurately portray what I was looking for or what I had to offer. I take great pride in my writing whether analytical or creative so I had to take a huge bite of humble pie. Needless to say, I didn't participate in the job fair because 19 copies of an atrocious resume would have went straight to the garbage had I given them out.
I learned a lot that day and it was the start of some major overhauling in my perception of my needs going into the months ahead of my EAS. I got more advice from a Marine veteran I had served with who is now an HR manager and a recruiter from Lockheed Martin. I learned to find the balance between the military lingo and corporate diction without leaving out industry keywords. I developed my profiles on LinkedIn and Clearancejobs.com. Early on, I would job search to see what the companies I was interested in were looking for and incorporate those changes in my resume as applicable.
The first contact I had with a defense contractor position came as quite a shock. In February 2013, a recruiter with ITT Exelis contacted me about a Intelligence Collection Manager position in Afghanistan. I had not expected to be contacted directly by anyone. Although I would not be out of the military before the position needed to be filled, I kept the recruiter's information in my back pocket. The next offer was a contractor position working with Army INSCOM and again, my EAS was too late in the year. I then struck gold, or so I thought. I applied to Praescient Analytics, a company that produces an analytical platform called Palantir. I had used it on my last deployment and loved it. The position was in North Carolina and everything fit perfectly. The recruiter contacted me for a telephone interview and a follow-up interview with a local Field Service Rep. That ended up being my first out right denial due to my lack of interview skills. The recruiter did take the time to offer his explanation and advice which centered around how I didn't portray myself or my experience with their system as well as they had wanted.
In May of 2013, I was contacted by an EMSolutions recruiter about a stateside position. His company was bidding for a contract supporting the DIA and they were looking to fill Counter Terrorism Intelligence Analyst positions. I jumped on it and we proceeded with a contingent offer with a $70,000 a year salary. I received company approval and anticipated contract award for early July. It was during this time that I went through the week long transition readiness classes. How much do you think I paid attention? All I was waiting for was that firm offer that was just a matter of time from coming through. So I waited, and waited, separated from the Marine Corps in August, and waited... I didn't find out until mid-September that the company had lost the contract. I was disappointed, however, I realized that was the world of defense contracting. Sometimes there isn't anything you can do about those things. After that harsh welcoming, I went back to the drawing board.
I started looking for two jobs this time, a career and the job-before-the-career. I applied to the Wal-Mart Careers With a Mission Program for veterans and multiple local hourly positions. I had interviews with Firestone and Dish Network where I learned that “no experience required” actually means “it would behoove you to have experience.” Resumes were tailored, applications were sent out and callbacks were made if I had contact information. In entry level positions, I was overqualified and I gave off the impression that I would leave the moment a better paying offer was presented. For mid level positions, employers decided to move forward with more experienced candidates.
My next lesson in resume content came by way of Streamline Defense, a subsidiary of BAE. In October 2013, I applied for a position supporting the Combat Intelligence Augmentation Team contract. A couple days later, the recruiter responded saying that I was not qualified for the position based on my limited time on active duty. Wait, what? I spent all 12 years on active duty so what gives this guy the right to tell me where I spent my time? He explained, after a professionally direct rebuttal, my resume was not specific with HOW I spent my time doing my job. My deployments gave the impression of reserve mobilizations rather than active-duty assignments. As an analyst, my leadership and managerial skills didn't matter at all. That's when it really hit me. The majority of advice I'd received, the transition classes, all focused on the corporate world outside the military. So I asked him, “what should I be including in an analyst centric resume?” Not only did he respond, he sent examples, format templates, and an application form. Retooling my resume, I resent the documents and not only received company approval, but client approval as well. I was back on track! All I was waiting for was that the January 6th report date for pre-deployment training.
Not so fast. The fine print about talent pools is that you're combined with every skillset that particular company employs. While you may be assigned a number, if that company isn't looking for your skillset, you're not getting a call even if you're first in line. Additionally, a subsidiary's allocations are determined by the Prime contractor's allocations that go unfilled. The day before Thanksgiving, I received word that there were no January allocations available with the subsidiary and unlikely to be anymore for the foreseeable future. The next guaranteed positions wouldn't open until the summer of 2014. This raises the question, how long is too long to wait for a job? My severance was dwindling even with my part time pizza delivery job. The fact is, there is no answer to that question. It's a matter of your patience and willingness while balancing life obligations which will change that determination from person to person.
So where do I go from here? Well, the search continues. I requested a Letter of Release from Streamline and have maintained contact with the recruiter through LinkedIn. Remember the recruiter from ITT Exelis? I pulled his information out of my back pocket and re-initiated contact. As it stands, I've signed a Letter of Intent with them and awaiting client approval. That's not all I'm relying on this time. In the job-before-the-career hunt, I've got my sites fixed on a security guard position through G4S Government Solutions. I found out about that position through my mother because she works there. Networking in it's simplest form right? Now you may be wondering why I'm going for a security guard position. Yes, I realize I'm overqualified. However, that's not the position that I am interested in for the long term. What I am fully qualified for, is the security administrator position that will open up after the current employee retires. My intent is to be there and waiting in order to alleviate the company's need to search for a qualified applicant.
Throughout this process, I've learned a lot about how I am viewed as a potential employee. The job hiring process is not standard across the board and there is no way to know expectations without insider knowledge. While networking works, it is not always available. Having situational awareness about your presentation and the company you are applying with is paramount. Sometimes, you'll make mistakes that will cost you interviews and other times, you're just not the right fit. Even under those circumstances, don't dismiss those companies entirely. Keep them in your back pocket, use them as network resources. You may end up going back to them later on.
While I've not landed a full time job since separating from the Marine Corps in August, I don't consider that a failure by any means. I've been handed denials and I've accepted offers. I've lost opportunities due to my mistakes and through reasons beyond my control. I've met industry professionals that have been extremely generous with their advice and counsel. Walking into a job purely based on my military experience is an entirely unrealistic expectation. It will take time, patience, flexibility, humility, and investment to reach my career goals. In the end though, I know I will get there.