Author Ross Nussbaum in Marjah, Afghanistan, 2011
At the 03XX Foundation, our mission is to provide peer-to-peer mentorship to Infantry Marine Veterans and Navy Corpsman who’ve served in an Infantry Unit. We do this through our case management system; a Marine or Corpsman contacts us for help and we connect them to one of our expert volunteers who helps find them real solutions to solve their problems. One the Career Transition side, the one consistent theme I see in our community is that we don’t know how to manage our personal story in a way that a civilian employer can understand. This is not a skill that we’re taught or that comes naturally.
Marine Infantryman have some of the BEST set of subjective skills borne out of our military service. We persevere through insurmountable obstacles that would beat the average person into submission and we accomplish our mission. We operate far away from Headquarters, putting us in a position to make dozens of decisions in rapid succession with minimal guidance. We develop a strong work ethic, many times forged in training and in combat, that civilian employers wish their teams could instill. We have a wealth of desirable traits that Fortune 500 companies spend countless hours and money training their people to have. So how is it that we have such a difficult time earning quality, high-paying jobs? Veterans with Logistics, Administrative, Finance or Communications specialties are transitioning just fine, so why are we different? I find answers in my own story and in the story of my most recent case of a former Infantry Unit Leader and soon-to-be business school graduate.
I left the Marine Corps in July of 2013. I just accepted an offer to work for Johnson & Johnson in an Associate Clinical Support and Sales role for one of their Medical Device companies. I was excited and my employer had complete faith that my military background and performance would be a great fit for them. I relocated to Texas where I picked out or first home in the suburbs of Houston. I went to a well-known, military friendly bank to apply for a VA loan. When I spoke to the loan officer, she looked at me with a great deal of skepticism and risk. Not only did she disagree with my employer that I was a good fit, she offered alternative career guidance for me that are “less risky”, “I served in the military and there’s no comparable skills between your job in the military and your next career. Couldn’t you find a job in security or an armory or policeman? Any place that you could play with guns?” Needless to say, they didn’t earn my business but she opened my eyes for the first time to a common misconception with Infantry Veterans; we don’t have skills required to be successful in a job where you want to pick up a pen (or wrench for that matter) instead of a rifle. Four years later, I’ve been promoted twice in four years and my career has a long runway.
I’m working with a young Infantry Marine Veteran who’s tackled the same issues I faced four years ago.
“When I began my transition out of the military, I noticed that the job opportunities were somewhat discouraging. Most websites advised going into janitorial fields or law enforcement. I felt a little shorted and that the military did not benefit me in any way. Perhaps this is a reason why I decided to commit to college. Now entering my senior year I have learned that this is not true at all. The Marine Corps has in fact set me up for success, even if I did know it during my enlistment.”
Here’s what I’ve learned and hope that EVERY Marine Infantry Veteran will embrace. Use these three skills you already have to take ownership of your story.
1. Cross-Functional Leadership
Civilian companies take a very horizontal approach to team work, which is much similar to what many of us know. If you’re a Small Unit Leader, you have authority over your team but you have to learn to network with the logistician to get you a priority resupply or an interpreter who may help pass along critical information about the locals you’re talking to that builds your situational awareness. You learned how to work with teams that you don’t have rank over. In my career, I collaborate with marketing to host local events, the education team on bringing customers to Key Opinion Leader meetings, and my contracts team to come up with creative solutions that work for my customers. You have these experiences and you need to focus on making sense of them in a way that your interviewer can visualize you using these skills in a new role.
After 9/11, A Marine Infantry Battalion is re-trained as a counter-insurgency unit much like the special forces are trained. This is a much more complex mission than what we were created to do, “To locate, close with, and destroy the enemy by fire and maneuver or to repel his assault by fire and close combat.” In addition to our core mission, we learned how to build trust with people of a different language and culture, work with contractors to build local infrastructure – schools, wells, and roads – and coordinate our own food, logistics, and facilities by air or ground. To a civilian employer, this person knows how to
3. Change Management
How often does the situation on the ground develop? How often did the rules of engagement change in a more restrictive and complicated way, forcing you to adapt your strategy to fit the new environment? The same concept applies to blue and white-collar businesses. As cultures change, teams need good change managers – leaders who are comfortable adapting to the new policy or type of customer – and lead the team to success.
Bottom line; you have the skills required to be successful in any career path that you invest in. Managing your story is critical to showing civilian employers that you DO have the skills they’re looking for. Of course you have to be trained on how to perform your civilian job. But with a little work and education, you have the ability to out-perform your peers and earn a long-term career that pays well, has great benefits, and doesn’t restrict you to playing with guns. If you’ve experienced any difficulty transitioning or are going through it now, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and let our team of expert volunteers empower you to succeed.