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First Person: Five Tips from a Veteran Who Got A Job

‘I called in every favor, pulled every thread I could find.’

In September 2008, two things happened: The world economy collapsed, and I was looking for a job.

Since I was leaving the Navy, I used a “military career transition service,” which helps you with interview preparation, resume writing and culminates in a one-day/10-interview extravaganza. From those 10 initial interviews, I received nine “call-backs,” or second interviews; I turned down seven of them.

This was not a smart decision.

In retrospect, my standards were too high, my self-regard a bit … overly optimistic. I also had no plan beyond this one day of interviews. I figured with 10 companies, I had to find something.

I was wrong.

By the time I went for the two second interviews I chose to pursue, companies were literally instituting hiring freezes as the fallout from the financial markets washed over all industries.

By late September, I was a messy combination of frantic and desperate. My paychecks would end in November, my wife was pregnant and just finishing up school, and we wanted to live on the opposite coast of where we were currently living (California).

I called in every favor, pulled every thread I could find, sent resumes to cousins of friends of college roommate’s in-laws. Eventually, a defense contractor found me on Monster.com and offering me a good job in D.C. Morals of the story are many, but here’s the advice I give to everyone I know transitioning out of the military:

1) Use every resource available; there are many. Do not let your pride or an incredibly specific desired career path stop you from exploring every avenue. While there may be a “perfect” job out there for you, there will still be time to find it after you make an initial transition, when you have a better idea of what life on the other side is truly like. Many transitioning vets suffer from a “grass is greener” perspective and focus on that one job they think they’d love. Get settled and take time to learn--you might love something you don’t even know about yet.

2) Don’t dismiss leveraging your basic skills into a contracting job. The company I work for now, Booz Allen Hamilton, has been named a “Top Employer for Veterans” by Forbes. There’s a reason defense companies are good places for vets; you’ll be in a community of like-minded people who understand the language. It’s a good place to learn corporate America, a kind of purgatory between DoD Actual and Full Civilian Life. Those skills you’re struggling to translate into civilian-speak? Defense contractors will snap them up immediately.

3) Don’t depend on a mystical “federal job.” Sure, apply on USAJobs. Here’s the truth, though: federal hiring is such a slow, broken process. The number of people I know who have successfully transitioned from the military straight to a government job is somewhere between nil and zero, unless you’re willing to deploy (again). Much of the difficulty comes from being a mid-career professional. Federal hiring seems to be easier for recent college grads or seniors; that mid-tier is brutal. You’re going to need a paycheck while your resume works its way through the world’s biggest pile of red tape, so be patient. And get another a job in the meantime.

4) Get involved with the veteran’s community. I focus on two organizations. Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans for America, I think, is the most effective advocacy organization for the current crop of vets. They excel at traditional forms of advocacy, engaging governments, corporations, and communities on issue-specific campaigns, from improving veterans' health care to spreading information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Team Red, White, & Blue focuses on helping wounded vets integrate back into civilian communities via one-on-one pairings, and seeks to raise awareness via participation in endurance and athletic events. There are plenty of other worthy organizations; the key is to find one that matches your interests. They’ll help feed that sense of belonging you’ll miss in the civilian world, allow you to give back, and give you a reason to get out of the house. Sign up. You won’t regret it, and their presence in your life might prevent the depression common in returning vets.

5) Investigate the Post-9/11 GI Bill. This is such a good resource it honestly boggles my mind. You are literally paid to go to school. Do it.

Finally, learn to be an educator and advocate for the military. There is no substitute for a one-on-one conversation between a vet and a hiring manager, even if the position doesn’t work out for you. There’s no need to brag or become overly technical. Simply say, honestly, what you’ve done. I was responsible for the well being, morale, and mission of 30 people in a war zone. That doesn’t need translating. Anyone can understand the scope of responsibility that it encompasses. Then live up to your promise, so those who follow have a clear and easy path.

Editor’s Note:

TJ Mayotte served six and half years on active duty as a Surface Warfare Officer in the U.S. Navy (from 2002 to 2008) and an additional two years in the reserves, leaving as a lieutenant. He deployed on four separate occasions in support of Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom. He was stationed in Norfolk, Virginia Beach, and San Diego. He now works for Booz Allen Hamilton, the company named by Forbes as best for vets, and resides in Elkridge with his wife and son.

This is the third in a series of Patch articles examining the employment issues Maryland veterans face in a fragile economy. In the coming weeks, Patch will ask veterans to publish their profiles on our sites as part of an effort to promote the skills of those soldiers who hail from or have settled in the Free State.

Are you a veteran looking for a job and want to tell your story? Email lisa.rossi@patch.com.

Next: We profile a veteran looking for full-time work amid mounting challenges.

You can find more articles from this ongoing series, “Dispatches: The Changing American Dream” from across the country at The Huffington Post.

LevelheadedOne May 09, 2012 at 11:21 AM
Thank you for your service to our country.
Bob Cross May 09, 2012 at 11:49 AM
excellent advice, I am saving a copy to share with my soldiers.
nancy cook May 09, 2012 at 11:57 AM
It's a terrific thing to share your experiences mistakes as well as successes. I still believe we learn more from mistakes! Well done!
Buzz Beeler May 09, 2012 at 12:39 PM
Good things happen when people work together. Thank you for your service to our country and thank TJ for reporting on your story. A winning combination.
jj May 09, 2012 at 01:17 PM
Our jobs need to go to our citizens. Put veterans first. Tell Washington to wake up and support our veterans.
Steve stolte May 09, 2012 at 01:52 PM
I highly suggest paying a professional resume writer. I was getting nowhere after I got out until I did that. I needed someone to translate military training and experience into civilian and then tie that into my goals for civilian work.
Frank in Elkridge May 09, 2012 at 01:58 PM
The federal government has has had veterans preferences in hiring for decades.Federal hiring rules make it mandatory that veterans get extra points and first consideration for any job opening. It's true that the federal hiring process is "broken" but that is problem that applies equally to both veterans and non-veterans. Anyone applying for federal job is in for a minor ordeal, not just veterans. Veterans with some kind of security clearance or technical or operational specialty will find that contractors are looking for them. I see job-fairs advertised all the time for people with clearances and military experience. There are plenty of jobs for people willing to stay in the defense industry or federal area. Of course, they are not all "great" jobs that everyone would desire. I'm not sure that veterans face any greater challenges than any other civilians in finding a job these days since they get have a lot more resources than the typical job-hunter, as Mr. Mayotte pointed out in his article. It looks to me like he is a diligent person who has the skills and determination to find a job, veteran or not. Veterans definitely all the help they can get, for the role that they have served in our country's defense.
SOUTHWESTMINSTER May 09, 2012 at 03:16 PM
Thank you.
Danna Walker (Editor) May 09, 2012 at 03:19 PM
TJ, thank you so much for sharing your experience with us. You're an amazing writer!
jag May 09, 2012 at 05:21 PM
"1) Use every resource available; there are many. Do not let your pride or an incredibly specific desired career path stop you from exploring every avenue. While there may be a “perfect” job out there for you, there will still be time to find it after you make an initial transition, when you have a better idea of what life on the other side is truly like." I think that's exceptionally good advice and applies to anyone making a large transition in their life, e.g. graduating from college, following a loved one to a new state or country, etc. Swallow the pride and the sense of entitlement - just because you're applying for or accepting a job you don't care to do or perceive as being below your skill set doesn't mean it's not a valuable experience and doesn't mean you're stuck at the job forever.
Jeff Hawkins May 09, 2012 at 05:28 PM
@jag Well said comment concerning the excellent advice from Mr. Mayotte.
nancy phillips May 09, 2012 at 05:43 PM
JJ says "put veterans first" I understand giving veterans jobs, but there are thousands of other people/civilians that are struggling just as much to find a job. Yes they do a service for our country but I think the most qualified people should get the jobs. By saying we should hire vets or others of service, you are basically saying that there worth is more then another persons just because they served our country. Remember they get paid to do that job while others are struggling to make ends meat. No disrespect to our servicemen/women but please consider what you say.
Jim Davis May 09, 2012 at 06:12 PM
Nancy said "I think the most qualified people should get the jobs" As a veteran I will agree to a point. If the veteran is comparable he should get the job. With the government military service should be an important factor. Also, Yes service members get paid to do their job, but at the same time remember that only about 1% of our population are putting their lives and family lives on the line for the rest of us.
jag May 09, 2012 at 06:21 PM
Nancy, your opinion certainly isn't disrespectful, but I do disagree to a degree. I know officers who retire at 50, get spectacular retirement pay, and an easy path to $250K+ defense contractor positions. Those people don't need our help. However, I also know grunts who choose to sacrifice prime years of their personal and professional lives serving and then leave the service thereafter. Sure, they got paid, and I'm sure most of them would be the first to say they don't deserve special treatment, but they certainly were not paid well (plenty of military families are on food stamps) and certainly they deserve the additional benefits (e.g. new GI Bill) as those benefits have been promised/are a common factor in the decision to enlist in the first place. I do think your point that vets aren't worth more than everyone else is apt and I very much agree that other job programs (for regular ol' people, for people who immigrated to this country, for retraining of people who have lost a blue collar job, etc.) also deserve funding, if the program is successful and pay dividends. It doesn't help anyone - economically or morally - for people within our county, state, and nation to remain unemployed for an extended period.
Steve May 09, 2012 at 07:59 PM
Great article.
nancy phillips May 09, 2012 at 11:09 PM
Jim although it is a small population that do this, they willing sign up for this job. No one is forced to join the military. Everyone who joins knows the risks they are taking by putting there lives on line.
Jeff May 10, 2012 at 01:44 PM
The federal government has a policy of hiring veterans, especially those Wounded Warriors. I have seen recent USAJOBS announcements that basically said, unless you are 10 or 30 point vet, don't even bother applying. I'm only a 5 point vet and I managed to get into the federal government. Combined with prior military service, I start out with 6 hours of leave for every on of the 26 pay periods and 4 hours of sick leave. Only ten more years, and I could retire from the federal government. So don't give up! Semper Fidelis!
B Allen May 13, 2012 at 12:17 PM
@Frank, even though what you said here is "true", but there are some circumstances to it. When I left the army after serving during the Vietnam era, i got a part time job working at my apartment complex and attended Univ of MD. After completing my degree in environmental studies at UofMD, I took the federal, MD state and MoCo county tests to get a job with the "governments". I scored very high on ALL the tests, had "veteran preference" and STILL they would not hire me, why you ask...because of affirmative action, hiring so called minorities who WERE NOT qualified and because of discrimination against me because I am white and because at that time they did not like military (which while in uniform I was called babykillere and spit on). So what I did was look outside my "major" and got a job in thehigh tech industry in 1980 and went from there and had a MUCH BETTER career than if I had worked for the government. Word to the wise, if ANY door opens, at least look inside and check it out. You are not going to make a boatload of money right off the bat, but look into the future at what the position will give you.
B Allen May 13, 2012 at 12:28 PM
@Nancy...Tell you the truth, I would hire a 24 yo vet over a 24yo college graduate any time. Those who come out of the military are more mature, harder working, can follow orders much better, can think more coherently and NEVER complain. Most of these kids that are complaining that they cannot find jobs and "occupy" cities, etc have wasted their parents money by majoring in english, some certain type of art, history, political science and in a lot of cases journalism. They feel they are "entitled" but they are not. They are going through what EVERY college student goes through when they graduate, it is just harder now because of the anti business idealogy of the left. When we ALL make the change from what we have now in the white house and get a REAL leader, someone who knows how to run a business and can make a good decision, then we will be able to go back to the way we were. This happened when Jimmy Carter was in office after Vietnam was over, after one term got rid of him and things turned around after he was gone. Right now it is history repeating itself. THE CHANGE IN THE WHITE HOUISE NEEDS TO HAPPEN.
B Allen May 13, 2012 at 12:31 PM
And military service counts towards your time in the government, should you want to work for the government.
B Allen May 13, 2012 at 12:42 PM
Good article. If I was just getting out of the service, I would go to where the jobs are. Maryland is NOT where it is happening. The current administration in MD is anti business, don't let them fool you. OWEmalley, with him wanting hgh taxes and come May 14 in the general session he has called, he wants to make them higher. Heck, he evan wants to take our last good deduction away, THE MORTGAGE DEDUCTION along with raising taxes on more goods and services. He managed to decimate the high tech industry in Maryland through high taxes (which the dems realized was a bad choice and had to recind it but it was too late), and regulations. We went from the 3rd largest TAM (total area market) to the bottom 5. He managed to run over $350M just in semiconductors and integrated circuit business alone, OUT of the area or out of business. For those of you who cannot comprehend, it meant an 80% decrease in income for sales organizations servicing those companies in this area. True facts...I know they hurt you people. Also, here is true facts http://www.taxfoundation.org/research/show/22658.html
Danna Walker (Editor) May 14, 2012 at 09:06 PM
Want a list of resources and potential employers who want to hire vets? Go here: http://columbia.patch.com/articles/jobs-and-other-resources-for-unemployed-veterans
Chris Jobe May 15, 2012 at 11:15 AM
I can tell you this article is spot on. When I was about 3 months out from separating with the USAF at Langley AFB, VA I had no clue why I had no bites on my resume. I had it on dice, monster, careerbuilder, USAJobs, CPOL (at the time), CHART (at the time) and several other places. I had a full ride on my clearance, I had taken many of the "usual" IT certs, and yet no one was biting. I found the issue though, my resume was horrible and needed a complete revamp. I found this out when I went to my shirt for help and to ask him what I should do; as I had the option to cross-train and stay in at that time and didn't want to get out if I was going to fail. My first shirt showed me more things then the separation classes ever did honestly. He taught me about making my resume first look appealing and then how to put key words that would draw their searches in and land me a job. My shirt spent a good week working on my resume with me after work hours to help me get a foot up. It worked, within 2 days of putting my new resume on the sites my phone was ringing off the hook from all the local companies and more headhunters then I could count. I ended up taking a job with Ciber and was working at Ft.Monroe, VA for about 2 years. The contract there was going through some rough changes so I had to move 700 miles to Ft.Knox for a job which once again after about a year the contract dried up so back to Ft.Monroe I went only this time working for Bowhead.
Chris Jobe May 15, 2012 at 11:28 AM
When Ft.Monroe was Brac'd I was told I would be part of the advanced team that would move TRADOC from Monroe to Ft.Eustis. All the while I knew that Bowhead would eventually find a way to break my job into a few small taskings so they could hire a couple people and pay them combined less then my salary. The entire time I had been applying to jobs all over CPOL and USAJobs. I want to say something like 200+ jobs just there and I cant even count the ones on other sites. Finally the phone calls started coming in, I want to say I interviewed for at least 80 GS jobs. After every interview I would wait for a call from CPAC but they weren't calling. I had all but given up when the Ft.Meade CPAC called to let me know that I had been selected for a job at the NEC. I was so happy and of course accepted immediately. Then all of sudden I received 4 phone calls that day from other CPACs offering me jobs as well. I had to pay for the move but it was all worth it. The jobs are out there but people have to be willing to go all out to get them.
Sarah Castner August 13, 2012 at 05:18 AM
Great post Chris!
Jayden Eden December 11, 2013 at 10:27 PM
Thank you for inspiring me with this. I wanted to be a veterinarian in Burnaby when I was young. http://www.emergencyclinic.ca/veterinary-pet-emergency-critical-lab-care-surgery-services-coquitlam/ Unfortunately, that never happened. Now I am considering going back to make my dreams come true.

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