Outside the Comfort Zone

Fort Benning Command Sgt. Maj. Chris Hardy takes notes during the Army Career and Alumni Program's three-day Transition Assistance Program workshop on Wednesday in McGinnis-Wickam Hall, Building 4.

Transitioning from the military to the civilian world really puts servicemembers outside of our comfort zone. We become accustomed to steady pay checks and rotating assignments, and then the "safety net" is gone and we must figure out how to transition our experiences and skills into our next career. The following story is my journey from 21 years of service to working for a Top Fortune 100 Company.

When I first started my transition I thought what all military members thought: "I will just walk right into a government service job," or "I know enough people and worked with enough Defense Contractors that I can easily get a job." This in fact was not the case, nor was it even close to the reality of the situation. I learned two hard lessons:

  1. Make a job out of looking for a job!
  2. No one will work harder for you than you!

I will tell you that it is extremely difficult to land a GS job and most of the people who offered you jobs while you were still in the service, or friends who said they had the "hook up" for you will not be there once you exit. You must start the transition early (18 months out) and you must refer to item #1 above!

First, take advantage of your organization's Career Transition Center. No matter what the rank, go to the resume classes, listen to the guest speakers, councilors, and go to every career fair you can. All of these options will ensure your success. Army "TAP" classes is where I had my first thought of using the skills that the military had provided me and transition those into a new career field. We had a gentleman come into our class and talk about opportunities within the oil and gas Industry. That one small moment in time changed my life forever.

I first started out applying to GS jobs and never received the attention I expected. So, I decided to self-assess. I started to keep track of my efforts by time and resource. At one point, I had applied to over 340 GS Jobs on USAJOBS.COM. Of those, about 40 were referred to the hiring manager. Of those 40 applications, only 2 actually called me for an interview. Of those, only one offered me a position! This occurred over a 6-month period and I quickly realized that my 340-to-1 odds was not the best way to manage my career-hunting time.

Next, I took a look at my career fair numbers. I was pleasantly surprised. After attending three Career fairs just at Ft Hood, I was receiving multiple phone calls for follow-up interviews, or at least job leads. On average, I would pass out about 30 resumes at each event, and normally would receive at least 4-5 call backs from those companies. For the three hours I spent at the event, this was better than 10-1 odds. The key at these events is to three things.

  1. Bring at least three versions of your resume with you. Not only will you hand them out, but this also  gives you the perfect opportunity to ask the different Human Resource reps what their opinion is on them! This proved to be invaluable!  Knowing exactly what type of formatting or what type of information they are looking for was huge in getting call backs. Remember, it's like having your promotion file going before a Military Promotion Board. They are looking at hundreds of resumes, "will yours stand out"?  They only have minutes to scan your records and make a decision. Finding out exactly what they are looking for in a resume and the format they choose will help you to gain that first crack at an interview!
  2. Always ask for a card. This allows you to email them directly a copy of your resume as well as gives you the opportunity to thank them for the time they took to talk with you!  This shows them your motivation and desire to work for their company.
  3. If you are going to hand out business cards and market yourself, do not use a home computer to print them out!  Do not use a cheap card either. Spend the money and get a nice card made, and if you have any certifications, put them on the card as well. Again, this shows employers your qualifications and attention to detail.

Another important option for everyone is the use of headhunting organizations like Orion International, Booze Allen Hamilton, and Bradley-Morris. These are outstanding resources for employment. I personally went 3 for 3 after interviewing with companies. They cost you nothing and they will put you in front of Hiring Managers!  Remember, its up to you to take the job!  What I liked about these organizations was that they gave me the opportunity to interview for a job with hiring managers from the prospective company. Another additional benefit is that you gain interviewing experience as well as professional feedback as to why you did or did not land the job you interviewed for!  These companies hold several hiring events all over the country, so if you are separating at one location and want to move to another, they can easily link you up with whoever handles the particular area that you are looking for.

Again, you have to make a job out of looking for a job! The system that I used daily consisted of updating my resume on Internet sites, searching job listings at the post/base transition assistance center, and putting on my calendar all of the Job/career fairs and any of the Hiring Events from the Headhunting Companies. I also checked several online military websites like Military.com for additional job opportunities. If you're posting your resume online, I prefer the following web sites: Indeed.com, Linkedin.com, Monster.com, and Clearancejobs.com. Although it is extremely difficult to land a job by just posting it online, I will tell you that it is possible to generate leads from this. Just log in, and hit the refresh button and log out at least once per week.

By far, the best way to land a job is face-to-face at career fairs, hiring events (Military.com, NCOA, MOA, Transition Centers, and Headhunters) or by simple networking.

Transitioning military have some highly desirable skill sets and attributes that are needed in the civilian world, including reliability, adaptability, and leadership. Telling an employer that you believe in his companies' vision, and that you are familiar and comfortable in high stress, fast paced environments will go a long way. Attention to detail and safety are bred into you. The ability to meet deadlines and adapt to changing priorities is what you do! This is standard data to anyone who has served in the military.


  1. Make a job out of looking for a job!
  2. No one will work harder for you than you!

Be relentless in the pursuit of your next career. Companies are not always looking for the best qualified; they are looking for the best fit. Good Luck and happy hunting!

I have to say thank you the Hess Corporation and the key personnel whom had the vision and courage to reach out to its Military Veterans and see our potential and value to their organization. I am gratefull to the leadership team of John Hess (Chief Executive Officer), Brian Truelove (Vice President Global Drilling & Completions) and Grey Manry (Manager Global Drilling & Completions) for giving myself and several other veterans the opportunity of a lifetime.

Shannon Marburger US Army MAJ Retired

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