Video Transcript: Civilian Job Search Landscape

with Brig Berthold, Robyn Knox, and Debra Ham

Brig: [00:00:00] We’d like to welcome you all here today. My name is Brig Berthold and I’m here with Debra Ham and Robyn Knox – two experienced HR professionals, and we are going to dive in to really understanding the civilian job landscape. Before we do that, I want to give each of my guests an opportunity to present themselves to you in their own words. Debra, will you go first?

Debra: [00:00:21] Sure. Well, as he says, I’m Debra Ham, the Director of Human Resources for the County of Greenville. I began my career in Human Resources with a manufacturing company. So I have well over 35 plus years. But who’s counting? I started HR when I was five and I hold certifications as a Senior Human Resources Professional, Global Professional Human Resources Professional, and a SHRM Senior Professional of Human Resources.

Brig: And you, Robyn?

Robyn: [00:00:55] Well, yes, well, hello, everyone. My name is Robyn Knox, and I’m also a certified Senior Professional in Human Resources… been in the HR field for 25 years now. I own my own business, called The HR Business Connect. Most of my career has been in HR within the manufacturing industry. So I look forward to being with you this evening.

Brig: [00:01:19] Wonderful. We appreciate both of them being here and providing us with their expertise. Our first question is, “What advice would you give, generally speaking, to transitioning military members, about the civilian job market?”

Debra: [00:01:38] Well, first, they need to have an idea, just jot down some ideas, about what they’re interested in doing. If it correlates to their military career, or just personal interests or hobbies. The main thing I would advise is to pursue your passion.

Robyn: [00:01:57] Yeah, and I agree with you, Debra. I would take this as an opportunity to really decide what it is that you want to do for this next phase of your life. Just like I would recommend to anyone who’s looking at transitioning employment. There’s a lot of good assessment tools out there. So if you haven’t had the opportunity yet, to do any assessments, and again, there’s a ton of them out there – StrengthFinders is one of the assessment tools, there’s the My Everything DISC tool, some of the local career sites have assessment tools. You may have had an opportunity to actually take some of the assessments as part of your transition out of the military. But if you haven’t had the opportunity to do that, please take the time. John C. Maxwell says, “You should know yourself to grow yourself,” and you really should take this as that opportunity, like Debra said, to find out what your passion is. If you can follow your passion in this next stage of your career, you’re going to be so much happier, with your job choice, and career choice.

Brig: [00:03:15] There’s a lot of people in the military who lean on the previous eight years, 15 years’ experience, where the Army, or the Marine Corps, or whatever it was, told them they were really good at logistics or they were really good at packing parachutes. What would you say, what would you say to transitioning service members when there isn’t an immediate transferable skill set to the civilian job market? Like parachute-rigging, for example.

Robyn: [00:03:44] Well, you know, there’s a wonderful site out there called ONET Online, where you can plug-in what your military occupational classification was, and I’m not sure I’m using the exact terminology…So excuse me if I’m not, but you can plug that in and it will give you some examples, or some possible career choices that might have some… I guess some relevance to what you were doing before, but there’s also some other sources that you can use. There are career coaches that you might want to tap into, or consider using, or utilizing. I know here in our local area, we’ve got some phenomenal Veterans career coaches. But there’s a group that’s located here in the upstate of South Carolina called Veterans ASCEND [], where they can also help you determine what transferable skill sets you have. So, even though your position may not be transferable, perhaps some of your skills are transferable. So don’t write-it-off just because you can’t find the job title out there on, or Zip Recruiter, or one of those job sites. The skills that you used in the military are probably very relevant to the civilian workforce.

Brig: [00:05:16] That’s a great point. When I transitioned out of the Army, I was told – I went out online – and it said, “you should go be a homicide detective, or join the FBI.”

Robyn: [00:05:26] And you’re not in either one of those?

Brig: [00:05:30] I’m notThat’s correct. But that’s 12 years minimum, maybe 15 in a police force, to take my accredited skill set and move it into the civilian workplace. So I had to get really creative. Debra, what would you say to that?

Debra: [00:05:43] You can also correlate some skills – just say maybe you were a Sergeant in the Army. You led a team of people. You can equate that to managing a group of people in an organization. Other skills such as communication. Perhaps you are a very effective writer, or a very effective listener. You have great oral communication skills. Those can be transferable to specific jobs. There are a lot of different things that, I think that military-trained people transitioning out of the military – just think about some very basic skills, just those – the team, leading the team, investigating, solving problems. All of those things are attributes or characteristics that organizations would love to have, no matter what the position is. And, one of the things you can do as well is talk about how those skills can benefit the organization, not necessarily going into the organization to find out what they can do for you, what job they can offer. But take those skills, summarize them and, you know, make them sound really good and how they’ll be beneficial to the organization. You have to do your research about the organization before you go in. And I’m sure everyone knows that. So then you’ll know what’s available; what their mission, vision, and values are, and how you can apply your capabilities and skills to that kind of organization.

Brig: [00:08:00] Yeah, that’s great. Evaluating companies and job opportunities is a challenge, and I think leaning on what we know as Veterans is a great way to do that. For instance, in the military we have structured advancement opportunities. There’s always a path forward. There’s always a way up; go to this school, take this, you know, take this certification class, you know, move in this direction and then, you know, wait everybody else out and you’ll get the rank you want. Right? That’s how it goes. How would you say that translates to the civilian world? Is there a lot of opportunity for structured growth or is it less-so that way?

Robyn: [00:08:40] I would say it is very different; and I think that is a challenge for anyone coming out of the military and transitioning into the civilian workforce. We lack structure compared to military, and I think that has been one of the most difficult… the most difficult areas for folks, particularly that first job out of the military. I’ve seen it during the onboarding. You know, where we’ve had folks walking into our organization and they’re expecting that very structured onboarding process or orientation process… they’re expecting the feedback, “How am I doing?” And the feedback is not forthcoming. Or they’re expecting that very formal training program and the training is not as formal and structured. And it’s the same way with the career progression, because I will tell you that a lot of organizations, they reward individuals for even lateral moves, in an org, in a company. They reward folks for having multi-skills across different departments. And in many cases, those are individuals who get promoted. And it’s those people who have worked in multiple areas, versus in the military where you may work up through the ranks in one particular area. So those are some of the differences that, it makes it a little bit more challenging, particularly, again, until you get used to it and realize that that is a difference.

Robyn: [00:10:21] And it’s a major differencefrom what you experienced in the military.

Brig: [00:10:27] Well you can take control of that, right?

Debra: [00:10:30] Sure. But there are also organizations, such as with public safety, where law enforcement will still model that same structure from the military. So, detention centers, law enforcement, things like that. So they even still have some of the same types of titles – master sergeant, or deputy, or master deputy, sergeant, lieutenant, captain, major. So you can kind of relate and see the steps that you need, or the breadth and depth of what you, the team that you’ve been managing, and you can step-up in a more structured manner and that type of organization. And there may be others. But in general, as Robyn said, organizations sometimes are pretty flat, and they pride themselves on not having multiple levels. So that might be an issue. So the more you can learn cross-functionally, would be to your benefit.

Robyn: [00:11:38] But I will tell you, those that can adapt quickly, from a structured environment to the less structured environment, and have been able to show that they can adapt, oh my gosh, they can excel quickly. If you look at the top of the organization, I mean, of course, a lot of manufacturing, which is where my background is. But you look at CEOs at a lot of companies, a lot of them are former military Veterans. [00:12:06][28.3]

Brig: [00:12:08] So what would you say to a member of the military – they’re transitioning out – and in their transition classes, they get told, “You’re so awesome, we love you; the civilian world’s going to love you too; look at how cool you are. You know, the top-secret security clearance, you know, and you’ve been through more difficulty than anybody you’ve ever met, or will ever work with,” and all this other “hot commodity”-style language. What would you say to somebody who comes to you, ready to get hired by your company, and has that mentality? Do you think that’s accurate?

Debra: [00:12:43] In some cases; I wouldn’t want to necessarily discourage people, but at the same time, you have to be realistic about what the skills are in the job that you’re pursuing, and where you can take those skills. So, you know, it depends on that “hot commodity,” and what the skills are, what the person has been doing in the military and what they’ve, what kind of skills they’re bringing to the table. And as I said earlier, just selling themselves, and a lot of people are, you know, they are reluctant to really sell themselves and market themselves. But this is the time if you ever want to sell yourself. This is the time. You can’t be shy about it. You really need to take the time to brag. And don’t consider it bragging, just marketing your skills and making sure that the company that you want to work for, the organization you want to work for, knows what you can bring to the table.

Robyn: [00:13:50] And I would just say, I think right now, I’ve heard so many discouraging stories from candidates, those who are job-seekers across the board. So folks who are out there looking for employment opportunities, whether you’re a Veteran or not a Veteran, I mean it can be challenging. You know, I know someone who’s been a former V.P. of Sales and Marketing, fantastic career. I read something – she had posted 43 resumes, 43 applications – with all “no thank you” responses before she had the first interview. So I think it could be very discouraging for anyone. And if you think about it, a lot of times, you can’t even make it through that first hurdle. So in that case, an employer may not have even opened the résumé, or the application to know that the candidate is a Veteran, so just applying online doesn’t guarantee that the company knows you’re a Veteran. Because there’s really no flag there that says you’re a Veteran. Even though you may fill out a form that checks that you are a Veteran, that’s kept separate from your application. And you may not know that, but it’s a big deal. And they certainly aren’t looking at that voluntary form that you’re filling-out, because that’s totally separate. So, yeah, they may not know, which is why applying online is not the best method of getting a job, but it’s networking.

Brig: [00:15:45] Right.It’s networking. Right. We’re going to get into that. But plenty of people do use these online resources. Right? And they’re just throwing resumes into the void almost, and, is there one that you like better, or should we just blow right through and get rid of all these different online resources? What do you think? Do you think they’re valuable at all?

Debra: [00:16:03] Well, sure, I think. Most every organization these days posts their jobs. So Indeed [], all of those types of things. But the thing about getting your resume noticed is having the keywords that match to the job, because some of the applicant tracking systems will look for those keywords in that if that keyword is not there, then that resume is not; it’s filtered-out. And it doesn’t necessarily go to the right hands. So that’s why you have to make your resume stand out. That’s why you have to use terminology that’s going to catch someone’s attention. But first of all, catching the applicant tracking system’s attention.

Brig: [00:17:41] Right. So for those of you that are watching, the applicant tracking system is a software-based platform that basically scans your resume for keywords, just like Google does when it’s searching the Internet for whatever it is you want to find. And you’ll just get booted if you don’t have any…It just passes you over. So let me ask one last question really quickly. For those Veterans who feel very strongly that they’re overqualified for a position, or if they feel they are, that they, their qualifications aren’t being met with an appropriate pay band. What would you say? I feel like there’s similar problems, and Veterans face it all the time; we’re very confident in our capabilities. We think our resume makes it very clear what we can do. But the pay we’re seeing out in the civilian world doesn’t equate to what we think we’re qualified for.

Robyn: [00:18:40]. You have to look at your long-term goal and your short-term goal. So if you accept a position, say, within three months, what would your income level be five years from now? And so if five years from now, you will well-exceed where you were when you left the military, is that the right career path for you? Are you willing to accept a little bit less, to end up in the long-run, earning a lot more? And so I think that is something that you look at. Your short-term goals versus your long-term gain. Now, that may require some additional training, some additional certification. But again, you have to weigh it all. And again, part of that assessment is what you really want to do, because if it’s something you’re passionate about, something you love to do, you’re going to excel at it. And chances are the money will come if it’s something that you’re very good at, and something that you love to do.

Debra: [00:21:29] And sometimes it’s really not a bad step to get your foot in the door in an entry level position, because a lot of companies will hire within, promote from within. And so that gives you an opportunity to get in there and show them what you can do, look for other opportunities within the organization. When you’re shining, everybody wants you, and you have the opportunity to say, “Well, gosh, there’s Joe over there; he’s working in administration, but I think he’d make a, be a really good fit for human resources.” And so you’re getting in there and you have an opportunity to network within the company, meeting other people and just finding out about what their particular function or department does. So that’s another way to look at that, that pay band not being exactly where you want it.

Brig: [00:23:45] Let’s talk for a minute about effective networking, especially for Veterans who are transitioning across the country or to a new location, that nobody knows who they are. They’ve never met anybody there. Maybe their spouse grew up in that, in that area, and they want to move back closer to their, that person’s family. Well, how do you begin the networking process?

Robyn: [00:24:22] I absolutely love LinkedIn. I will tell you, though, that I’m guilty of not going out there that often right now just because there’s not enough hours in the day. But it is a fantastic tool, absolutely fantastic tool. So if you’re not on LinkedIn, you need to get you an account and sign up, and I’m telling you, there are so many people out there who are willing to help, particularly the, that you’re a Veteran. You know, by the way, thank you for your service. And so, and I’m one of them. If you reach out to me and you want to connect, I would love to connect with you. And if somebody is in my network and you would like me to make an introduction, I’ll be glad to make an introduction for you. And most people would, because most people want to be helpful. And I think that is a great way to start. And there’s been a lot of free networking events and training on LinkedIn. Last year when I was trying to decide my next move, I attended one of those. And in the Chat feature, folks were right and left, saying, “I would love to connect with you, I would love to connect with you.” And I was posting a wonderful website we have here locally called Move Up Upstate [], or something, and telling folks because they were complaining about not having jobs in their local area – COVID was happening. And I’m like, come to South Carolina. Things are great in here. And so, you know, I think people would love to be able to assist you if you were looking to make that transition.

Debra: [00:26:09] Yep, I would suggest an opportunity to network – faith-based institutions, sign up for a class, meet your classmates, take advantage of your local Veterans organizations, – every state, county. There are lots of Veterans’ organizations that are willing to assist, and they have meetings, networking opportunities for other Veterans to meet. And if there is a particular profession that you’re interested in, every profession has an organization that you can attend their meetings, even if it’s virtually, and they have networking opportunities here in the Upstate, the chambers even have networking opportunities. And that’s a big organization. Every one, every city/town has a Chamber, and they probably have some event that you can attend. You can attend and meet people. And I know a lot of Veterans earn their college degrees while they’re in the service. Check with your local college or your alumni group to see what they have available. They often offer job fairs for their alumni. So there are lots and lots of opportunities that you can look into as far as networking, whether you know anyone there or not. There’s always someone that you can meet.

Brig: [00:27:50] Thank you both, very much. And we appreciate Robyn and Debra, being here with us. Don’t forget to fill out your self-reflection exercise and your transferable skills worksheet. And in the next section, we will talk about marketing yourself.