Mentors and a Practice Lap

Erin Connolly believes that intangible skills learned in the military are exactly what civilian employers are after. “Every veteran has time-management skills, discipline, dedication, a mind open to different cultures, the ability to change with the mission, and resilience,” she said. “What employer would not want that?” “I joined the military because I was not ready for college right after high school. I was 17 years old, and knew my parents probably would not have appreciated me just wasting air after they spent their hard-earned money to send me to private school. I needed something a little more challenging and structured.” The now retired technical sergeant served in the United States Air Force for 17 years. She spent her first three years as a supply logistics technician, and the remaining 14 years as a bioenvironmental engineering technician. Her tours of duty landed her at Barksdale Air Force Base in Bossier City, Louisiana, and Whiteman Air Force Base in Knob Noster, Missouri. She wrapped up her service at Joint Base Andrews in Camp Springs, Maryland. Each location provided Connolly with unique opportunities, including working closely with the structural maintainers of the B-2 Stealth Bomber. “Though it looks like the Batmobile from above, up close and inside it is a work of art,” she recalled. “I was shown how each layer of the aircraft had a different story to tell, yet all worked together to accomplish the same mission.” In addition, because Joint Base Andrews houses the aircraft of the President of the United States, Connolly had the opportunity to witness all the airmen who worked on it raise their right hands and pledge to support and defend the Constitution. She also worked in the 79th Medical Wing, which has proven to be the “face” of the Air Force’s medical service for many years. “I had a different sense of pride each day I drove to work,” she said. What did she enjoy most about her time in the service? “My favorite part of being in the military was the discipline, diversity, and camaraderie,” she said. “No other job is like this nor has the same expectations. How many people can say they have a friend in every state and probably every country? I believe I learned something from every person I crossed paths with, regardless of age, race, rank, or branch of service. We all had the same mission.” Among those who crossed Connolly’s path were a number of great mentors. “Most of them are retired now, but I still talk to everyone single one of them to this day. Their advice ranged from financial and dealing with customers to disciplinary actions. They always helped me, and I still appreciate them all.” ###THE TRANSITION When it came time to transition to a new career, Connolly took a unique approach to her job search by taking a “practice lap” at two career fairs. “I was not quite sure what I wanted to do for my next career,” she recalled. “I knew what I did not want to do, but that was the easy part.” She asked questions at the career fairs and learned what companies were looking for from her in terms of qualifications and resume structure – and also what each company had to offer a potential new employee. Another challenge she faced was trying to have the “perfect” resume. “I learned that it must be tailored to every job/employer’s expectations. I discovered this by attending career fairs and the workshops that most of them offered,” she related. “The various workshops and vendors helped tremendously.” Once Connolly felt more prepared, she attended a DAV RecruitMilitary career fair in Baltimore with a clear mission: the hope of finding her next career. There, she met Karen Foley, a district advisor from the Camp Springs, Maryland, office of First Command Financial Services. “Karen explained to me how First Command is committed to serving the financial planning needs of American military families,” said Connolly. “After ten minutes of talking to her, I was convinced that is where I best fit.” Connolly is currently an advisor in training and is going through the process of becoming licensed and certified in her new field. For other veterans who are making the leap to the civilian world, Connolly has a few tips: - Keep an open mind, and know your worth. - Set your expectations high, but not so high that no one will hire you. - Attend resume classes, use resume contractors (who will write your resume for you), and go to interviewing workshops. - Use YouTube to see interview examples and to research companies before heading to a career fair. - Do not forget to dress for success.