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How do you break into an industry for which you have no experience?


William Shontz Falls Church, VA

Thank you to all of the mentors that sign up for this program, I know your time is valuable and I appreciate what you do for us veterans.

I have a strong desire to continue to serve, but no longer in uniform. I want to not just switch my industry, but my functional area as well. I am attempting to get into the world of corporate social responsibility and have no contacts in the field.

I am confident that my leadership, project management and business acumen will serve me well in the role, but other than my volunteerism I have no DoD experience in this area.

28 August 2020 10 replies Military to Civilian Transition



Jose Roman Norfolk, VA

Good Morning,

With zero contacts and no experience you have to start there by doing your research and coming up with your own way forward.

1) Find the companies causes that interest you. CSR is a leadership choice and every Fortune 500 company has its unique initiative and pursue it as part of their culture to give back. Whether its protecting the environment , social justice issues, education access, building community programs, saving the endangered red panda, sustainable energy, reducing carbon emissions, you name it.

2) You can do the research on the companies that interest you and see where they are putting their foundation money and donations. Many companies set aside millions sometimes billions for causes they believe in.

3) Information interviews with the people in those organizations. Use your military veteran network to connect. I attend the SVA (Student Veterans of America) national conference that brings companies like Disney, T-Mobile, Google, Apple etc. as sponsors. Great way to learn more about what these companies are doing and something about their cultures. You can go to their websites and see how they're doing their share of corporate responsibility.

4) Determine how big a net you want to cast. Are you ready to move to NY? GA to join Coca-Cola? Google in CA? How passionate are you going to be about the organization? Determine where you want to locate yourself and how global you want to be in your pursuit and start there.


14 September 2020 Helpful answer


James Vickery Ogden, UT

William, consider the wealth of experience you have gained over your military career and how you can translate that into 'civilian speak.' This is challenging, but not impossible - every veteran has the same experience. As you start to 'translate' your military experience to civilian vernacular (without sentences full of acronyms - good luck!) you may remember people you have worked projects with, been stationed with several times, or encountered at conferences or meetings: use this network to reach out and ask for contacts, job references, information on open positions (I have talked to many of my former co-workers on available positions and what those opportunities could be). In my experience with applying for many jobs and finally getting hired, the job you could be searching for is more about who you know than what you know.

Who in your personal network knows you are retiring and looking for work? Are there other avenues of employment to get you where you want to be - such as HR (which you have experience in) that could lead to Corporate Ethics, then to CSR? Possible options to consider.

Have you been through TAP-GPS yet? If so, where did you attend and how many times did you go through the course? Difference bases offer a variety of programs, in addition to the 'standard' classes that are mandatory. Most also have agreements with local companies for advertising job fairs and hiring seminars, which is helpful for on the spot interviews, handing out resumes and meeting potential employers.


Elizabeth Hendler New York, NY

Hi William,

I think Paul’s reply is a good one. Informational interviews have helped friends of mine get into their dream job in non-profit and CSR roles. Sometimes folks went on many of these types of calls or meetings but the end results was building up their networks as they learned the most updated language and interview questions that would be coming their way.

Most CSR folks I am familiar with are from the funding side of things or are in the business of giving out resources both financial and volunteers through their company to help out. However, there are many ways to begin to understand the field and the non-profit world better of which CSR is a part.

Some ideas that come to mind that could be other avenues to enter this field are 1) volunteer to be on boards, advisory boards of non-profits to both give back and better understand how non-profits work and the challenges they face in daily operations; 2) With your experience you could help nonprofits through supportive efforts around capital campaigns, or other large or complex projects that involve distribution (food banks, pandemic relief, int’l relief efforts); 3) or you can begin by being a general volunteer and see how the nonprofits in your area operate. Many nonprofit employees start out as volunteers and then find ways to stick around. CSR roles will look for both corporate and/Or nonprofit background.

CSR is not the only way to give back. Being in HR, leadership or management in your local social service nonprofits or faith based initiatives can be meaningful and as important right now in helping solve major needs in our communities beyond what corporations can do.
In NYC, where I am, the nonprofits here have had to change our operations overnight to deliver food, and support everyday folks in applying for unemployment, food supports as the coronavirus impacted us all and things ground to a halt. We all went virtual or masked up and helped figuring out the local challenges on the ground. What I mean to say is that there are things local governments or corporations can’t do to solve every issue and non-profits help fill in those gaps.

There are so many ways to give back and have a meaningful career, especially now in this remote context. You could have skills that are needed in your local area, or somewhere else here in the US or even somewhere across the globe. Keep going! You’ll find it.

Good luck William! I’m sure you have a lot to offer.


Henry ("Dr. Hank") Stevens Fort Lauderdale, FL

Turn this question on its head and ask, WHAT ARE THE TALENTS NECESSARY TO DO "THIS" JOB? Then, ask yourself, ARE THOSE THE TALENTS THAT I HAVE? Is there a correlation? If yes, go for it. If no, look elsewhere for a position that is correlated with your talents.

Don't know what your talents are? Go here (free):

Talent trumps experience and education every time.

Have a question about the results, feel free to contact me off channel @

Dr. Hank


David Andersen Alexandria, VA

There are a number of CSR groups on LinkedIn. I would recommend joining them and reaching out to members in those groups who are veterans. That will give you some first hand information on how they accomplished it. That will help you immensely.


Jeff Martin Ashburn, VA

I’d suggest that you network at the target company or industry. Use LinkedIn to find people already working there and reach out to them. Ask them the process they used to get hired and ask them to help you navigate the hiring process and if they are willing, ask them to submit you as a referral. These activities require much more time on your part but in my opinion would greatly increase your chances for success. Good luck!


Bruce Marks Long Island City, NY

William, I am going to come at it from a different perspective. Since you have extensive experience in supply chain and specifically medical supply chain, why not look for a role with a global company in that area and then transition to Corporate Responsibility. The other avenue may be to look for roles in Corporate Human Resources, which will easily transition you into your desired area of focus.


George Wilhelmsen Rochelle, IL

This is challenging, but not impossible. I agree with the other people who responded and have a few more suggestions.

You are looking for a position in Corporate Social Responsibility.

Can you define that? What does that mean to you?

Now look back over your career - both military and volunteer. Can you find events in your life where you have done things you can use as experiences to support that you can do this role?

If you can, list them and the results they had. It's very important to list the results of your efforts in your resume.

The other thing you may want to do is connect with a resume service. This requires an initial investment, and can help your resume get past the Resume Filter Services that so many of these big companies (at the latest estimate, >95%) use to screen candidates. They will get the right "key words" into your resume to allow you to get to the interview process.

That's where you can shine - but you have to get your foot in the door.

How are you at answering interview questions?

How would you answer this one (hint: It's a TRAP and it is part of every interview I did for my former company): Sometimes, things don't go as planned. Tell me about a time when things didn't go as you expected. What did you do? What were the results.

Thank you for your service. I look forward to your reply.


Paul Tusting Salt Lake City, UT

The key may be finding a way to get past being a piece of paper (resume) and have them get to know you more. Having a good LinkedIn profile is a place to start and allows you to look for folks to approach (beyond just your personal network). I'm not sure if the "Informational Interview" term is used much any more, but you could take a more causal approach with something like "I love this field and am drawn to your company because of XXXX, but would like to learn more about what it is actually like to work there. Would you be free for a short phone call? Thanks for reading."
This can be done via LinkedIn messaging and/or cold calling (which may be a bit harder with covid do to people working remotely).
Best of Luck!


Barbara Kennedy Salisbury, NC

A couple things that can help...
1. You can network with industry groups and associations. You mentioned project management, have you research or reached out to your local PMI?

2. Create a resume that is focused on the skills you have. For example, if you want to apply for a project manager role, share your project management accomplishments.

3. Make connections. Volunteer with local industry groups and associations. Use these experiences in your resume.

4. Contact the civil service and research companies that provide services for government contracts.

I hope you find this helpful and I wish you the best of luck.

4. Attend local business meetings. Usually can be found weekly in the local newspapers.

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