With five years left before retirement, Diana Huron "knew what I had to do" to prepare herself to enter the civilian job market. The retired Army sergeant major added, "I took full advantage of that [last] year to get ready. I had high hopes."
Yet when she was offered a GS-13 position, Huron found herself for a time wondering if "I could do that." But she took stock of herself and what her Army experience could bring to that position.
"We teach. We mentor and coach every day in the Army," Huron told attendees at the second Army Women in Transition Symposium in Washington. "You’re head and shoulders above the rest."
Col. Alice Demarairais, USA, Ret., said that when she began networking for a civilian job she also took stock of her skills and what the Army taught her. "I found that I bring to the table leadership." She found civilian employers wanting leadership when they are saying management. At the same time, she was bringing a "team as opposed to the individual" approach to her new career.
Veterans "are willing to lean forward. They are resilient. They are resourceful. The civilian workplace craves those skills."
Col. Sally Murphy, USA, Ret., reminded attendees that the military and civilian workplaces can be very different, especially for women. One group of women in the civilian workplace "are the ultimate professionals," but there is a second group, "who are very sorority like: ‘I came to work so I can go shopping."’
Adding, "I found this a little distressing."
Maj. Gen. Gina Farrissee, director of the Army’s military personnel management in the G-1, stressed the value of networking.
Deborah Frett, of the Business and Professional Women’s organization, said, "For women networking is a difficult task" but one that can be mastered. "Value yourself, you have a lot to offer."
Being a woman in the workplace has its own challenges, Demarairais said. "You don’t see a lot of women at the VA" where she works. Frett added, "Many companies remain unaware of how to reach women veterans," but there are a number of firms "starting to develop training programs" for women veterans.
"Find the right culture" in the company that you intend to work for, Angela Messer of Booz Allen Hamilton said. Check to make sure the company values military experience. "Find a company that rewards it and incentivizes it and evaluates it."
Finding a good job and holding it is not easy, Murphy said. "There are older vets who lost their jobs" as the economy worsened. They "never got the hand hold."