Military-to-Civilian Transition Success Story: Full Speed Ahead
by Janet Farley, Contributing Editor
Article Sponsored by: The Florida State University College of Business
Like many service members who transition out of the military, Gary Seiter wasn't certain where he would draw his first civilian paycheck, but he was certain of what he wanted to do after serving 21 long and faithful years in the U.S. Navy as a Chief Petty Officer in the field of logistics.
"I planned to have eighty days of transition leave available and for thirty of those days, I wanted to do absolutely nothing. My wife had other ideas," said Seiter wistfully.
It turns out that Dave Offer, a Bradley-Morris, Inc. (BMI) candidate recruiter, based in Atlanta, Ga., had other ideas for Seiter as well.
"After reviewing Gary's resume and then meeting him, it was like getting manna from heaven," said Offer who had been diligently searching for a candidate having his exact logistical skill set.
"He was the perfect match for a job I was trying to fill with Thomas and Howard Company," said Offer who arranged for Seiter to attend a BMI ConferenceHire event the very next day.
During the BMI hiring event, the personable Seiter found himself interviewing for the job of 2nd shift supervisor with the privately-owned company which specializes in providing full-line, full-service distribution to convenience stores and small grocery stores, primarily in S.C., N.C., Ga. and Tenn.
The company also operates a number of wholesale and retail outlets throughout North and South Carolina.
"To be honest, I wasn't really interested in being a 2nd shift supervisor, but I figured the interview would be good practice for other opportunities," said Seiter adding that he never expected to actually be hired out of the process.
Acing the interview
Seiter prepared carefully for the interview, understanding that he would need to leave the military jargon at the door. He used the services of the military transition center and the added expertise provided by BMI to help him meet the challenge.
"At the transition center, I learned how to write a civilian resume and communicate effectively, leaving off all the Navy terms and using corporate terms that a civilian employer would understand," said Seiter.
"The interview itself was interesting and surprisingly stress free," said Seiter. The employer was clearly impressed with his confidence and his background.
"After we talked a bit more, the employer tweaked the job description to allow more room for process and improvement and I accepted the job not as a 2nd shift supervisor but as the assistant vice president of operations," said Seiter.
Dave Offer has seen this before. "What I always tell BMI candidates is 'Do your best in the interview because you never know where it will end up,'" said Offer. "Nearly 20% of BMI's placements are for positions that are different than what the candidate originally interviewed for. Many times if the candidate makes a great impression, it can open up additional opportunities for them, as it did with Gary."
Within ten months of working for the company, Seiter was transferred to Newberry, S.C. where he became the vice president of operations over that facility.
"Unfortunately, that facility eventually closed and was sold, based on the economy. The silver lining, of course, is that Thomas and Howard retained me and I was then given the job of director of operations for the whole company," said Seiter.
"I still can't believe that I have been this fortunate," said Seiter adding that before he retired from the Navy, he never expected to end up in a management level civilian position.
Transitioning out the right way
Seiter understands first-hand how challenging it can be to leave the military behind and embark on a civilian career, particularly when it has been your life for so long.
"I entered the Navy when I was only eighteen years old. I knew how to be a Sailor but I didn't know how to be a corporate employee," he said.
"Over years, my family and I moved every three to four years. There were always new places and new people. It became a real whirlwind and we made the decision to slow the world down a little bit, settle down and let the kids finish high school in one place," said Seiter.
"We started planning for our transition about eighteen months out. We didn't want to make the mistake of making any last minute decisions. There are so many things you have to do in this process," said Seiter.
"You have to set yourself up for a successful transition and that requires adequate planning," said Seiter.
Following the plan
Seiter offers the following suggestions for those in the process of transitioning out of the military now.
- Use language that a civilian employer can easily understand.
"You have to be able to effectively communicate your abilities and experiences, in a resume or in person, in a way that makes sense to that employer," said Seiter who now finds that he reviews resumes of potential candidates.
"When I see resumes from former service members that are full of military acronyms, I understand them. Other employers who have not served in the military, however, don't have a clue. Employers don't give each resume very much time. If they can't understand what you're trying to say, they'll just move on to the next one that they can understand," warns Seiter.
- Understand what you have to offer an employer before you leave the military.
"Any business wants to hire someone who will make an immediate impact. You have that ability. We take for granted how much the military freely gives us. The military teaches us to have leadership abilities and to be hard workers. Our work ethic and way of thinking are in demand. These are valuable qualities to any employer but you have to understand that you have them to offer in the first place," said Seiter.
- Take full advantage of the military's education and training benefits.
"Having an academic degree is important and the military affords you the opportunity to earn one. Take advantage of those training and education benefits while you are still in uniform. Don't, however, let a lack of a college degree hold you back. Depending on the job itself, an employer may be more interested in what skills and experience you have that you can bring to the job," said Seiter.
- Use the services of the transition assistance office. You never know where those connections will lead.
"The military transition center helped me to have a good resume. I was lucky that Dave [Offer] and BMI made the invaluable connection between the job and my skills," said Seiter adding that the job represented an opportunity of which he was completely unaware.
"It was the foot in the door I needed," said a grateful Seiter.
Seiter offers fellow service members one last word of wisdom, having been there and done that.
"Enjoy your time in the military. Take advantage of your benefits and don't forget about your experiences in the military. Don't, however, try to make your civilian life or job just like your military one was. They are too different. You'll never make them the same. Once you've made up your mind to move on, do it," said Seiter.
The Military-to-Civilian Career Transition Guide” and she writes the JobTalk column for the Stars and Stripes newspaper. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for comments and/or column suggestions.
Return to May/June 2010 Issue