From Mentor to Protégé: The Civilian Transition
Navy veteran Frank Villanueva recounts his military transition experience and offers some insights.
I joined the military at age 18, after quitting college and having no clue as to what to do with my life. I rose through the enlisted ranks fairly quick and spent most of my military years as a supervisor. After spending over twenty years in the US Navy, I felt that I had achieved a level of comfort and seniority to be considered a senior manager. I always tried to lead by motivating, inspiring, and setting the right example to my subordinates. In many ways, I considered myself a mentor. So, when the time came to retire, I did not foresee any obstacles.
When I retired from the military, I thought I could just "flip" the switch and make the transition. I soon learned that this was not easy and that I needed help making the adjustment. I read articles about ways to prepare for and apply to civilian jobs. I also enrolled in college. Eventually, I found a position on a military base. However, my goal had been to work for a Fortune 500 firm as a Program Manager.
An email from the university I was attending offered veterans the opportunity to be mentored by a corporate employee from the private sector through the American Corporate Partners (ACP) program. I thought about the many years I spent as a military mentor; however, I did not feel comfortable asking for help. This would require me to change my mindset from a military mentor to that of a protégé. Eventually, I decided to try the ACP program and see where it took me.
My mentorship proved to be an amazing experience. My mentor was the President and General Manager for a large company in the oil and energy industry. My mentor allowed me to completely immerse myself in his business world and rapidly became a constant source of knowledge, networking, and motivation. We were about five hours apart by car, so we tried to make contact at least every two weeks. We communicated via FaceTime, phone, email, and even text messaging. During my first in-person visit, my mentor introduced me to key senior managers who shared how they were able to succeed as program managers and in other senior positions. These introductions helped me understand that to succeed as a civilian program manager I needed a new way of thinking. I also met with senior managers who served in the military and they provided me with advice on transitioning to a civilian career. My mentor also facilitated a one-on-one coaching session with his company's Human Resources manager. We discussed résumé writing techniques and I was able to rewrite my résumé in a way that makes it easier for prospective employers to recognize my qualifications and accomplishments.
On one occasion, my mentor invited me as his personal guest to a company picnic. We even attended a car-racing event together and the entire day was fun and productive overall. I used the opportunity to talk to him about management and leadership topics and I was introduced to other executives from the company. This allowed me to expand my network base, which I found out is essential in the civilian sector.
When I told my mentor that I was pursuing a PhD in leadership, he quickly offered his assistance. I asked him if he could connect me with CEOs and other senior executives who were willing to be interviewed for my dissertation research. He arranged several meetings with senior executives on my behalf and even had his staff prepare an itinerary with scheduled interview times. I was able to conduct all interviews and added information to my research. Thanks to my mentor's guidance and assistance, I plan to defend my dissertation in April 2014.
The mentorship between us became more than just a one-year program. He learned from me, just as I learned from him. I allowed him a window into a veteran's life, which helped him understand why we often need help adjusting to civilian life, but, more importantly, he also learned the benefits companies can gain by hiring veterans. I will be forever grateful to ACP for this opportunity.
To learn more about American Corporate Partners and how you can get involved, visit the website at acp-usa.org.
For more on mentorship oppportunities, and to contact potential mentors, visit the Veteran Career Network.
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