Two years ago when the military told me I was moving to El Paso, Texas, to fill a critical assignment, it came as a shock to my family and me. The news along with this overwhelming daily feeling I was experiencing later developed into a decision. A small voice inside my head coupled with a strange sense of exclusion made me wonder if my heart was still in it. I had outgrown the military, and it was time for a change.
Eighteen years of honorable service working alongside some of the greatest our Nation has to offer, and with the same determination I had entering the Army, I was committed to transitioning out at year twenty. Like many before me, I struggled with the million dollar question, "what will I do next?" From there I started taking inventory of skills acquired over my career and writing them down. Among the first recorded were dedication, resilience, agility, adaptability and being on time. I was also comfortable following, improving and creating processes, schedules, and budgets. After a week of daily brainstorming, a decision was made to continue project management, and I began reaching out to professionals for advice. I started with my wife who has an impressive history in Corporate America and then on to my sister and brothers. All of which are consummate professionals.
During the following months, I would lean in heavy on my LinkedIn network for guidance, suggestions, and tips. Majority of them generously reached back out to me flooding my inbox with valuable, relevant material while some spoke negatively about my decision and urged me to stay Army. I contacted C-level executives and conducted informational interviews, started taking certification courses that complimented my military experience and networked at every opportunity. Fourteen months out from retirement I signed up and attended SFL-TAP and workshops hosted by amazing organizations like Centurion Military Alliance, Endeavors, USO Pathfinders and HICAPS. I read books articles on Corporate America and the military-to-civilian transition and sat through online courses on LinkedIn Learning. Websites like Rallypoint, American Corporate Partners, and G.I. Jobs provided engaging content rich with advice and job boards, which I used for research.
Throughout my journey, I treated my resume like a living document, and I considered it to be a key. I realized my resume had the potential to open up a dialogue or lock me out of an opportunity. The seriousness of getting it right I did not take lightly, so I spent months tweaking and routing it through free resources like family, networked professionals and military friendly organizations for review.
A colleague of mine shared with me a flyer from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Hiring our Heroes. On it contained information on a Corporate Fellowship program designed to assist transitioning professionals with various industry skills and opportunities. It was a no-brainer for me to decide I wanted to take advantage of the program and signed up. Six months out from retirement I started my fellowship at La Quinta Inns and Suites, and the pressure of retiring weighed heavy on my mind. The General Manager, recruiters, and on-site staff welcomed me with open arms and made me feel like a member of the team. I learned something new every day, and as time passed, I became more and more comfortable with my family and I transitioning.
March 1, 2018, rolls around which is four months out from retirement and two months out from my terminal leave and I began aggressively applying for jobs. The labor dedicated to my resume was instantly paying off, and although it was about a 5 to 1 ratio, I was getting callbacks. I crashed and burned on the first two opportunities and discouragement briefly set in. I called my family and discussed what I experienced, and they gave me some great advice. They said, stay patient, learn from each interview, make adjustments and do better the next time. Simple right? Easier said than done, but still excellent advice.
After three failed attempts and at least twenty applications, I called my dad to vent. I can always count on him to use what life has taught him to reel me in or set me up for success. I whined for over thirty minutes, and he patiently listened, when I finished without hesitation, he said sharply, "You are gonna get a job, but first you have to practice until you can stick the landing." He went on to say, "Do you think gymnast land on their feet the first few times they try?" I knew where he was going, so instead of answering, I replied, good point. "Keep interviewing and practicing on your own, until you learn to stick the landing. When you get that right, your new career will be waiting."
Who am I? What can I do for your company? Why give me a shot? What makes me uniquely qualified? Can I concisely communicate this? All important questions to ask myself as I aim to stick the landing.
I practiced with the harshest critic: myself. In the mirror for hours before my next interview, I centered all my answers on the above. With a little coaching from my family (mainly sister), I advanced to interview two. The company flew me to their location where I met with six senior staff members for over fours hours which culminated with lunch. On the ride to the airport later that afternoon, the PMO Director extended his hand and stated he would love for me to join their team. Additionally, he committed to having human resources prepare an offer within a week. March 20, 2018, I humbly accepted the role of Senior Project Manager at my future organization.
Four months out from retirement, and two months out from terminal leave, I successfully landed on my feet. Huge thanks to the many professional influencers and organizations that assisted me along the way and I will be forever grateful. My plan includes helping veterans navigate this unique, scary, but utterly doable journey. Stay motivated, focused and put God first!
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