Careers After Military Service

Virtual Alumni Panel | February 10, 2021

Transitioning from active military service to civilian life can be a daunting task. Luckily for the CC community, nearly 18,000 alumni have served in the military or are dependents of service members and provide a valuable network of individuals who share this unique perspective to the workforce.

On Feb. 10, 2021, the Columbia College Alumni Association hosted a virtual panel to discuss careers after military service. The event was moderated by Keith Glindemann (senior director of Military and Veterans Services for the Ousley Family Veterans Service Center), Dan Gomez-Palacio (director of the Grossnickle Career Services Center) and Keith McIver (director of Alumni Development).

Four alumni panelists shared their experiences during the hour-long conversation.

  • James Shelton ’03, retired U.S. Army Sergeant First Class, is a military relations manager for Lockheed Martin in Orlando. He completed his undergraduate studies at Columbia College-Orlando.
  • Treka Henry ’09 is a program analyst for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in Lenexa, Kansas. She served in the U.S. Army for 11 years and achieved the rank of Captain. She earned a bachelor's degree in Sociology through the Columbia College Day Program.
  • Jonathan Dudley ’10 is a military intelligence officer for the Missouri Army National Guard Homeland Response Force. He earned a bachelor's degree in Political Science through the Columbia College Day Program and currently services as chair of the CCAA Advisory Board.
  • Ed Sasan ’11 was an explosive ordnance disposal specialist for the U.S. Army. After retiring in 2005, he joined the Madison City Police Department and is now an anti-terrorism officer for the Department of Defense. He completed his undergraduate degree at Columbia College-Redstone Arsenal in Alabama.

When preparing to exit the military, service members may utilize the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) to ease the transition for themselves and their families. Service members typically begin the process a year out to choose where they are going to live, get to know their community and understand resources such as veteran benefits and educational options. Sasan and Henry each had about a year to plan, while Shelton transitioned in just four-and-a-half months. Dudley is still actively enlisted.

What do you wish you would have done to prepare?

TH: I didn’t give enough attention to what Human Resources meant outside of the military. It’s completely different on the civilian side.
JS: I wish I would have had the opportunity to attend a TAP class to better understand the language between the military and corporate America.

Did you end up where you thought you would?

ES: I missed the target by a mile. I thought my military experience was going to get me in the door without a college degree. I had to learn the civilian lingo. Once I learned that, it was right on board.
TH: I knew networking was going to get me there. I went to a couple of luncheons and connected with another veteran in Kansas City. My supervisor now at HUD is a veteran. It was a long string of connecting. I became an adult in the Army, and that was my identity.
JD: I want to land in cybersecurity, which requires top secret clearance for the positions I’m interested in. I have secured that top secret clearance. It is important while in service to look at the jobs you want and the certificates that are required so you can develop your resume.

How did your education factor in?

JS: My education was crucial to assuming the role as Talent Acquisition at Lockheed Martin. At first they didn’t know I had a degree, but once they knew that, the jobs I could get doubled my pay.
ES: I work in the federal system, and education is dependent on level. Now as a hiring manager, I can tell you having a degree gives you the first step through the threshold.
TH: I had to rely on the discipline learned in the Army to work on my master’s — to go to class and make the grades — while dealing with so many things going on in my life.

What is something you learned in your military career that you use now?

JS: 24-percent of the workforce at Lockheed Martin is veterans or reservists. The trick is not just doing a task right, but doing it right when no one is looking. As a hiring manager, I looks for real-life experiences that come with being a veteran.

How do you network?

ES: That’s what we do in the military – we talk to a lot of people. That’s what got me in the right place. You’ve got to be involved with the right kind of people to find the right job opportunities.
JS: That old saying comes to mind. “It’s not what you know; it’s who you know.” That is very important. I was a non-believer in having a LinkedIn account and sharing my world with other people, but I can tell you, you have to come out of that box.
JD: I specifically reached out to folks to find out what certificates I need. When you know you want something, you can get a perspective for what that looks like. LinkedIn is one of the primary resources I use to meet folks.
TH: Find a mentor. Find someone who has the job you want and take the time to find out what you want. Don’t take just any job, but do your due diligence to really understand an organization and how you will fit in.
ES: As a federal employee, we have certain boundaries we have to abide by. I tell my new hires, “If you have a social media account, that’s good – it’s supposed to help you,” but you have to be very careful about who you know and what you say.

Final Takeaways

  • Be sure you are ready!
  • Know where you want to go, and budget and plan accordingly.
  • Take inventory of your skills.
  • Make sure your resume speaks to your skillset.
  • Consider what you want to do every day.

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