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Tips on Transitioning from a Marine Who Knows

FourBlock book cover.

Military.com had the chance to speak with Mike Abrams, the man behind FourBlock, about how veterans can make a successful transition. Abrams himself served eight years of active duty in the Marine Corps and is currently part of the Marine Corps Reserves. FourBlock is an organization that offers accredited courses to veterans about transitioning to the civilian world. So far they've helped at least 85 veterans successfully find internships and full time employment. If you have any questions about FourBlock or are interested in learning more, contact Mike Abrams at mabrams@fourblock.org.

Tell us about your military experience.

I spent 8 years in the Marine Corps – I joined after the attacks on 9/11. I went in as a 2nd Lieutenant and deployed to Afghanistan with 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines, and I was the artillery forward observer. During my last couple years I worked with a college recruiter and went around to all the campuses in New York City and recruited young men and women to join Officer's Candidate School. I'm currently in the Marine Corps reserves and I'm with Mike Battery, 3rd Battalion, 14th Marines out of Chattanooga Tennessee.

What was it like transitioning out of active duty?

I struggled a little bit. I struggled to figure out what I wanted to do next, where I fit in, and what my new mission was going to be. My first job was at a media company. It was sort of a good fit, but at the end of the day I was very passionate about helping veterans and decided to pursue my not-for-profit, FourBlock, full time.

What would you attribute to your success?

It was networking with other veterans. That is what ultimately really helped me. As I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do, one of the biggest things veterans struggle with, and this is something that I struggled with, is the reality check that you're going to have to take a couple steps back professionally before you can begin to move forward again. What I mean by that is, we have so much responsibility and authority at such a young age in the military, and a lot of veterans, including me, thought we were going to transition out of the military into a civilian career with the same responsibility, authority, and compensation.

It is very difficult to transition into something that's equal to what you had in the military. It's this realization that maybe not everything that you did in the military is valued by civilian employers. As long as you figure out what you're passionate about and what you want to do, it's easier to take those couple steps back and work hard and quickly move back up to where you were.

What's the best way to overcome the "step-down" that veterans might experience?

First, it's understanding that no one is going to give you a job. Employers respect and appreciate the fact that you served, but that respect and appreciation isn't going to translate into a job. You have to realize that you need to earn the job and be able to communicate how you're able to add value to a company.

The next step for that is networking with other veterans. The last thing we want to do, myself included, when we transition out of the military is hang around with other veterans. We want to travel around, relax a little bit, let our hair grow out, and decompress. But the best thing you can do is be around other veterans, learn how they made the transition, where they are, how they fit into their company, and learn from them and ultimately, through their support and the information that they're passing along to you, you can find your way.

Does culture shock ever get in the way of a successful transition?

Yeah, absolutely. It's all about culture. The military culture is very distinctive, and not a lot of companies emulate that culture. When a veteran is used to a certain type of environment and how to interact with it, they know their boundaries and where their box is and how to stay in or hop out. It's difficult to make the transition to a completely different culture where the interaction is very different from what they experienced in the military. There's a learning curve, and it takes time to understand it and to be able to operate comfortably within it.

What's the best way a veteran can leverage their experiences with the military culture in a civilian environment?

Every service has core values and leadership traits. In the Marine Corps those are honor, courage, and commitment. You have a whole list of leadership traits and principles that guide our everyday activity. Those things still apply; they're principles for a reason. You can apply them anywhere you go in life. Applying those principles to a new culture and environment is very important.

What can servicemembers do to plan their transition while they're still serving?

That's tough. It's difficult depending on where you're located and where you're going to move after your transition. Being in the military isolates you – you could be overseas or 3,000 miles away from where you live. It's tough to line something up, particularly for the junior enlisted members unless you try to go to school or you know of a union job or a police officer position back home that you're able to line up. A lot of servicemembers now are transitioning into school when they get out and utilize the post-9/11 GI bill. That is something they could potentially line up before they transition, but it's very difficult due to geography and what you want to transition directly into.

What are the most important things transitioning veterans need to know?

First: don't expect anyone to give you a job. You have to earn it. You have to be able to communicate how you're going to had value.

Second: get out there and network with as many people as possible. Focus on other veterans – learn about how they made their transition, how they overcame their challenges, and how they were able to build their career. Those are the ones that are most willing to help you. Take advantage of technology. Try to get face to face with people. Go on these interviews, ask for advice. Going on something like Skype is so much more effective than just doing a phone call. If you're doing a phone interview or someone agreed to get on the phone with you for a few minutes to talk about their career path, ask them to get on Skype. Having a face to face interaction makes it that much easier to communicate your skills.

Third: Practice your interview skills. Being able to communicate your story in a way that civilian employers are going to understand is just absolutely imperative. Practice your pitch, refine your resume, and go to as many job interviews as possible.

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