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Veteran Transition Profile: Mike Starich

Mike Starich, Orion International

Mike Starich is the President of Orion International, an agency that assists transitioning junior military officers and enlisted technicians in finding jobs in the civilian workforce.

Tell us about your military background.

When I was a kid I was always interested in military history, and when I graduated from high school I applied for a four-year ROTC scholarship via the Marine Corps. The Marines always had a special place in my mind due to their history and all the legends surrounding it. I ended up attending Marquette University on the ROTC scholarship, I graduated in 1985, and was then commissioned as an officer in the Marines. All Marine officers attend a basic infantry officer school, known as the Basic School, which I completed in 1985. Following that I went into flight school -- I was actually in a flight school called NFO Flight School, and ended up being a radar system operator in F-4s out of Marine Corps Air Station El Toro in California. Following that I was an OSO (Officer Selection Officer), basically a recruiter for officer talent for the Marines.

What led you to getting into recruiting when you were in service?

My officer recruiter job was in Ohio, and I went into it kicking and screaming. I wanted to be a flight instructor, and the last thing I wanted to do was to go on recruiting duty, but I was pretty much told that that was exactly where I was going to go [laughs], due to the needs of the Marine Corps. This was prior to the first Gulf War, and as it turned out I really enjoyed being a recruiter. I loved the autonomy, and everything there was very translatable to a sales position in the civilian world. When I got married and decided to get out of the Marines in '92, there just wasn't a lot of different opportunities available for military folks. I had to stand in line at job fairs and fight for the chance of an interview with only a handful of companies. Fortunately I was hired by Orion in 1992 and I've been with them ever since. I started out as a JMO recruiter and I ended up running all the junior officer operations, and through a series of other jobs I ended up being Chief Operating Officer and then President, starting in January 2006.

Without naming names, do you have an anecdote to tell about how tough the job market was when you got out?

I was interviewing for several sales positions, including one with a uniform rental company, which was $20,000 a year base salary and some commission. Here I was thinking I was all high and mighty, having been an aviator in the Marine Corps, and interviewing for those positions made me wonder if I was making the right choice in getting out. I interviewed with a steel company for a sales position, and the manager looked me in the eye and said, "Why the heck are you getting out of the Marine Corps? Why would you take a job like this where you would take half the pay and half of the glory of what you were doing in the Marines?" It really made me pause and think about what I was doing, but there was a lot of hardships in the Marines in terms of maintaining a family life, and I had pretty much committed to my wife and was ready to get out. So that's what I did.

Orion is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, and companies like ours have taken it upon ourselves to sell corporate America on the benefits of hiring military people. I think we've done a really great job of expanding the opportunities that are available to the American servicemen and women who are coming out now. It's a lot better now than when I got out.

What expectations and hopes did you have going into the military about what you would get out of the experience, and looking back, did it match up with what you were expecting?

I guess I was looking for the leadership piece. What really intrigued me about the Marines was the challenge of it -- challenging myself mentally and physically, and putting myself in extreme situations to see how I measured up. That was important to me back then. I have no regrets -- the Marines were fantastic, and I had the time of my life in terms of the aviation side of it -- flying F-4s was certainly a great experience, and I wouldn't trade anything for that experience right now. It gave me the initiative, organizational skills, leadership ability I didn't possess prior to joining. Tenacity, mission focus, all those great things that you look for in good leaders these days -- the Marines were able to provide a good experience in all of that.

If you could put yourself in your shoes back then, knowing what you know today, would you have done anything differently when you transitioned to the civilian workforce?

Yes. I would have been more humble. I would have read more books on interviewing. I would have researched industries that I would have been interested in, I would have put a bit more effort into it. It's amazing, once I became a recruiter it became clear that a lot of people put more time into balancing their checkbook than into looking for a new career. In retrospect, I was very lucky -- I ended up doing something that was a very good fit for me, and the career path that was afforded to me over time was outstanding, but that can be an exception. There's just as many stories about people who made a bad decision, and could have done a lot more research had they known now what they didn't know then.

The advice I would give to transitioning servicemembers is that there's a lot more opportunities for military people out there now, and the corporate world has become a lot more open to veterans, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't do your research and homework on yourself, prepare a resume, work on your interview skills -- all the basics we just talked about. It could mean not only a good career decision, but more money in initial salary. You should put all the effort you can into preparing yourself for the transition, and certainly take advantage of free services like Orion -- it doesn't hurt.

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