- The Essential Military-to-Civilian Transition Resource

Military-to-Civilian Transition Success Story: A Rising Star at Dell
by Janet Farley, Contributing Editor

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Bobbie Caldwell

Like many of us, Roberta (Bobbie) Caldwell has multiple job titles.

She is a full-time graduate student at Baylor University, a wife, a mother and a marathon runner. Those activities and responsibilities keep her off-time booked up solid. During the day, she stays equally busy working as a logistics program manager for the Fortune 500 firm, Dell, in Austin, Texas.

Before Dell, There was the U.S. Army
Before assuming all the job titles listed above, she had one other. She was a Soldier. Caldwell was an ID card-carrying member of the U.S. Army, having what she calls a "rather unorthodox career" in uniform.

"I joined the Army in August 2000 as an enlisted service member in the Signal Corps at the rank of E-4," says Caldwell. Having already achieved an undergraduate degree before joining the Army she was allowed to enter at the rank of Specialist.

After serving two years enlisted, Caldwell applied to and was accepted to Officer Candidate School (OCS) at Fort Benning, Ga. Upon graduation from the school, she was commissioned as a 2LT, Air Defense Artillery Officer in January 2003.

As her uniformed career progressed, so did her personal life. Caldwell and her husband, a fellow service member, started a family. Soon the dual-military couple found themselves facing the distinct possibility that both of them could be deployed simultaneously, a situation likely given today's current high op-tempo environment. It was a situation they didn't want to put their young daughter in at the time.

"We wanted to be able to give our child the stability of having at least one parent who wasn't deployed," said Caldwell adding that the decision was made jointly for her to leave the active duty military service. (Caldwell's husband followed on to serve two rotations in Iraq.) Caldwell subsequently completed her military service in May 2008, attaining the rank of Captain in the Texas National Guard.

In Search of a Civilian Career
After taking a few months off to decompress and acclimate herself to being a civilian again, Caldwell began her job search.

Like some other service members may find in the transition process, Caldwell admits that she had self-imposed restrictions making the search for employment more challenging.

"I limited my scope in terms of where I would accept employment. I wasn't willing to move across the country for a new job because, at the time, my husband was stationed at Fort Hood. Of course, I wanted to live and work within a relative commuting distance," said Caldwell.

After deciding that a few of the initial opportunities were not a match for her career goals, Caldwell gave Bradley-Morris, Inc. (BMI), the largest job placement firm in the United States, a telephone call.

On the other end of the phone, she met BMI account executive Ed Flores. Ed listened to her needs, effectively evaluated her qualifications and scheduled her for an interview with Dell at the next BMI ConferenceHire¨ hiring event.

Finding the Right Job
"Bobbie had tremendous skills and matching her with Dell was the right fit," said Flores.

Caldwell couldn't agree more.

"I am so appreciative of the opportunity that BMI provided me to meet with Dell. I interviewed with them and they hired me," said Caldwell who then began the daily one-hour commute to and from Fort Hood to her new job in Austin in April 2005.

"I don't believe that I would have found my career with Dell had it not been for BMI. You can always find the right job on paper but unless you have a true window of opportunity to land it, you are just another face in the crowd," says Caldwell.

"BMI gave me that window of opportunity and I was able to walk through it and begin a wonderful career with Dell," says Caldwell.

Caldwell was initially hired by Dell to be a supply chain manager where she coordinated with vendors to ensure that adequate supply levels and purchasing activities were effectively managed.

In four short years as a Dell employee, she has been promoted twice, first to the Canada next business day planner and then to her current position as logistics program manager. In this role, she ensures new Dell Storage products are ready to roll out from a warranty parts perspective.

In addition to her promotions, the company also supports her rigorous education and training agenda. Dell paid for her training and certification as a Project Management Professional (PMP) through the Project Management Institute (PMI). They also provide her with a generous annual tuition reimbursement allowing her to offset the cost of attending graduate school.

"I love my job, my employer and the people I work with. At Dell, there is a professional, collaborative work environment that is characterized by integrity and a solid work ethic," said Caldwell adding that those same characteristics are found in the military.

"Now that I have a solid understanding of the business itself, I look forward to ultimately being in a management role within Dell. I want to be in a position where I can manage others, applying my valuable work experiences and making my own individual contribution to seeing that processes are more effective," says Caldwell.

"The military experience set me up to be successful in my civilian job," said Caldwell. "In the military, you are taught to take the ball and run with it. You have to have the initiative to drive a situation, often dealing with ambiguity. You are taught to use your best judgment because the situation is not always clearly defined," said Caldwell emphasizing that those same skills can help you succeed in a civilian career, too.

Advice for Fellow Service Members

Caldwell also offers transitioning service members valuable advice.

"There is a misconception out there that you have to find a civilian job in the same functional area in which you worked in the military. That's not true. You can capitalize on those leadership skills that functionally transfer between career fields," said Caldwell.

"Don't look for just any job. Look for the right job. Look for the one that matches your core skills and fits your personality. After all, you'll spend more time on the job than you will off it, so make sure it is some place you like to be," said Caldwell.

Caldwell also proposes that service members accustomed to working in a management role not rule out the possibility of starting a new job in a role other than management.

"Sometimes you need to learn the business at hand before you can progress within it," said Caldwell.

Finally, the star of this particular success story suggests that most employers are looking for the skills that those who have served in the military can offer.

"You may have an engineering degree and that would certainly be marketable as you seek a civilian career. Don't overlook your other core competencies, however. Most employers are looking in the candidate pool for individuals who have leadership skills and who aren't afraid to do the job using their best judgment," said Caldwell.


Janet Farley is the author of “The Military-to-Civilian Career Transition Guide and she writes the JobTalk column for the Stars and Stripes newspaper.  She can be reached at for comments and/or column suggestions.


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