From S-3 Vikings to Medical Devices

Brian Schulz

Brian Schulz is a former Navy lieutenant and flight officer who found a new career selling medical devices with Medtronic Spinal and Biologics. We caught up with Lt. Schulz to ask him about medical industry prospects for veterans, and to get a few tips about searching for a job.

Tell us about your military experience and background.

I graduated from the Naval Academy in 1999 and became a Naval flight officer so I was down in Pensacola for two years, and completed flight training down there. I worked with S-3 Vikings out of San Diego and finished at the end of September 2001, when I was immediately deployed with the USS Carl Vincent for the first strikes in Afghanistan. I later served on the USS Nimitz during Operation Iraqi Freedom -- we got there in April 2003 and spent about eight months on that deployment, after which I came back to Pensacola as a flight instructor.

What led you to your current position?

When I found out that S-3s were going to be decommissioned I had the choice of selecting a new platform and doing back-to-back sea tours to catch up with my JOs, or getting out into the business world, so I just decided it was a good time to part ways with the military. I worked with a number of recruiters, and I also went to a lot of career conferences – my preference was for sales, and I hoped to get into medical device sales if possible. Orion International got in touch one day, and a job had come across their desk for a Sales Education Representative Program that a company called Kyphon was offering. The guy from Orion was able to get me an initial interview at Kyphon's headquarters in Sunnyvale, California, and then we had a second group interview with 15 people. Probably two-thirds of them were military, and the other third were young professionals who were in some type of medical sales.

I ended up getting hired into the program, along with another Navy guy and two Army guys. We spent a year on training, with six months in Sunnyvale, and six months traveling, covering territories across the nation, just to get the sales experience. Now I have my own territory in Montana and I’ve been up here for the last four years.

One might not necessarily associate being a flight officer with working in the medical industry. What skills did you pick up in the military that help you in your current job?

We walk into our first squadron, platoon or ship when we’re 22 or 23 years old and we immediately get leadership experience, with responsibility for enlisted people – that experience is hard to come by in the civilian world. Most people don't get the opportunity to manage until they're in their late twenties or early thirties. We get management and leadership experience at a very early age, and we get to utilize that over our full term of service. From the aviation world, I picked up the attention to detail,  the tremendous amount of planning that goes into executing a flight, as well as learning from the debrief what you can do to improve next time. That really translated well into my current job -- it's very similar to a surgeon who pre-plans a surgery, executes it and reviews it afterwards, figuring out how to make things smoother and more efficient in the future. Another thing we walk away with from the military is a great understanding of communication both up and down the chain of command. It’s still surprising to me that my contemporaries who haven’t been in the military don’t have that. In the military, we’re very aware of keeping our leadership informed and keeping those who we are responsible for informed of what’s going on, and it’s been very beneficial in my current role.

Would you consider the medical industry a good civilian career for veterans?

I think it would be a great fit for anyone getting out of the military – health care and energy are two of the top sectors to get in just because people are always going to need both. I’ve really enjoyed it. If people are interested in a sales job, medical device sales is a great field to get into. Metronic and Johnson & Johnson both have programs that heavily recruit junior officers. It’s lucrative, and it’s also an avenue where you’re dealing with surgeons, who are at the top of the food chain in the health industry, so it’s a lot of fun, it’s interesting, and challenging.

What was your job search experience like? Any lessons learned?

There was definitely a very steep learning curve with my resume and translating what I'd done in the military to civilian terms: being able to communicate what you did in the military into the civilian world and how that would make you successful in that job or position. Job recruiters do a pretty good job of helping but they’re working with tons of candidates and they get paid when the candidate gets a job. They’re going to try getting you the best opportunity, but if they can’t they might pigeonhole you in another opportunity, because that’s how they’re going to get paid. I didn’t have the trust that they had my best interests in mind because they were for-profit companies, so I searched on my own as well, and that’s why I worked with Orion and a couple other recruiters. But the big advantage of working with recruiters at career fairs was that they could get you eight to ten interviews in one day, which was just awesome. When someone who's just getting out of the military approaches me I ask them to shoot me their resume and I try to help edit it and give them pointers on translating military experience into civilian-speak, and then encourage them to apply on their own, and get recruiters to get them interviews. Hopefully it’s a win-win situation for both parties.

There’s also service academy career conferences where you have to be a service academy grad to go – they’re extremely well attended. For example, the one in DC has over 150 companies, and it’s a great experience because all the companies are there to hire junior officers. I went to a couple of those and it helped me narrow down what I really wanted to do.

Any other tips for people getting out?

Expect a challenging uphill battle. You might think that you can just get out and find a position, but it’s a lot more difficult than that in today’s economic environment, where jobs aren’t the easiest thing to come by. The number-one objective is to get an interview, and once you get an interview hopefully you can knock their socks off. Even if that position isn’t for you, you can voice that after the interview is completed or when you get the job offer. Hopefully you can get your foot in the door and spark their interest, and find a position that’s a good fit for you, but it’s definitely not an easy task.

I was given some good advice at a job conference from a guy who had been out of the military for a while, who suggested getting in with a brand-name company, a top-of-the-line company. If you can do a great job there for three to five years, you’ll really be able to write a great ticket for your next position. Unless you have a career track you’re trying to follow, it’s a good strategy to find a top-performing company and get experience with them.

I don’t think online resume submissions are very worthwhile. I think I must have submitted my resume 50 times and never even got a reply, so I would strongly recommend not to focus on online submissions, but on recruiters and directly contacting companies. I’ve found that networking sites are valuable, so I would encourage you to take that translated civilian-speak resume and build a nice profile, and use that to connect with people in industries and companies that you’re looking to get into. Try to find a buddy from the military who has completed the job search, rely on people who have gotten through the process, and learn from their experiences.

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