The job hunt can be challenging for veterans making a career transition. BestCompaniesAZ caught up with Mark Day HR Services Representative, Performance Support Team at State Farm who has made the transition from military to civilian work. Mark hopes his story helps others who are transitioning out soon or have done so recently.
What was the job hunt like for you as a veteran?
It was taxing, to say the least. I started my hunt around 2 ½ months before I left the service. I was reaching out to friends, family, and old network connections in an effort to be able to walk directly into the right career field when I came home. I had multiple people across many different industries review my resume and even provide interview tips to help me better understand the difference between civilian interviews versus a military style interview. When I came home to Phoenix I began applying to every opportunity I could find ranging from things I was over-qualified to do to careers that I did not have enough experience for. I spent literally every hour I had rewriting my resume for each posting, working on my interview presentation skills, attending career fairs, and applying for jobs. That lasted for about 20 days.
What were the specific challenges you faced in looking for a civilian job?
Having a family, while a blessing, can be very stressful when dealing with the strains of making a mid-career switch. I needed to find a school for my oldest (who was in Kindergarten) at the time, and my twin boys were still in diapers, so trying to find daycare that was reasonable was difficult when I was living off my savings. While I prepared the best I could, it still was nerve racking every day that I was not working, because I was wondering “When am I going to stop burning through my savings and start bringing income in again?” Aside from the typical stresses that anyone would have with making a life change like that, I had this military mindset that I needed to go and find a job. I had it labeled like a checklist in my head: write a resume, apply to a job, interview for job, and go to work. I struggled with the concept that I was looking for the right career fit where I would not only be interviewed, I should be asking questions to learn more about the company to determine if I would like working and growing there.
How did you find State Farm? What was the hiring process like for you?
I actually never even thought about applying to State Farm or even joining the insurance industry in general. I attended a career fair hosted by Wounded Warrior that I had heard about on the news that morning. I printed 50 resumes and drove over to the other side of town to attend. The event was only a few hours and there were so many different vendors from every industry. I made a plan to speak to every organization in attendance, but in the end I ran out of time. I had actually walked into the last room where the Phoenix Police Department was closing up their setup. I asked a few questions and that’s when the State Farm recruiter came back to grab a few more items she needed to pack up for the day. She said hello and I replied back. I asked a few questions, because my assumption was that the only thing to do at an insurance company was work at a call center or be an insurance agent. Both are great opportunities, however, it wasn’t where I wanted to head in my transition. I realized the time was past so I apologized for going over the scheduled time and attempted to excuse myself, because when I was a recruiter in the service I knew what kind of hard work that a career fair takes, in addition to usually having to be someplace else right after the event. So I wanted to be respectful of that. What sparked my true interest in State Farm was that she didn’t flinch when I offered an out. She said not to worry and asked me more questions about my experience and time in the service. She took the time to explain in more detail all of the different opportunities at State Farm. Her genuine enthusiasm and support of the organization was what drove me to actually apply. I was not even sure I would find a place where the employees had the kind of camaraderie and the pride that I was accustomed to in the service.
Did you experience anything different during the hiring process at State Farm, as compared to other companies? If so, what and/or how?
I had interviewed at multiple companies before interviewing at State Farm, ranging from start-ups to mid-level companies and other fortune 50 organizations. What I found that set State Farm apart was their interest in my actual application of my skill sets. Most organizations seemed to have the check mark mentality when reviewing your resume and even during the interview. There was a large amount of experience-based questions to understand application of my accomplishments. I was able to provide more context on a lot of my military experience that may not have been easily translated had it been left to just a resume. It was great not just explaining what I did in those scenarios but why I did certain actions.
What has it been like for you working at State Farm?
Joining State Farm has been nothing short of one of the best decisions I have made in my life. I, like many veterans before me, struggled initially with transitioning from the service to the corporate environment. I reached out to my manager with my concerns and how things are different in a corporate atmosphere. What was really helpful was that he set me up with a mentor. My mentor was a fellow veteran who understood the challenges I had facing me ahead. He had been with the company for about 10 years, so he essentially was able to help keep me grounded while also being able to help me work on what some would call “rough edges” in my communication style. The most impactful thing he was able to do was help me feel more relaxed in the environment.
How have your military skills and experience transferred to a civilian career?
I worked on explosives and was a recruiter for a few years while I was in the service. I worked my way up to being a senior leader in my division. While I don’t work on explosives anymore, I found that it was my leadership experience and time on recruiting duty that employers found most appealing and transferable. Things like performance evaluations for employees and leaders alike, coaching to gain positive results, and holding the standards of policies and regulations to yourself and those around you are all skills I use on a daily basis.
How have you felt supported by your employer?
State Farm truly pushes work/life balance for all of their employees. Our mentorship program allows for the continued development of our employees by connecting newer/junior employees with more tenured/senior employees and managers across the enterprise. We have development time that can be used to job shadow other areas if you are interested in pursuing other facets at State Farm and we also have Employee Resource Groups. When I explained to my manager that I wanted to be involved with the Military Affinity Group, which is an Employee Resource Group at State Farm, he was very supportive of it. Now I am in a position where I am also the Area Leader here in Phoenix of that group where we are helping veterans connect with veterans internally at State Farm along with working with our community.
What advice would you give to those who are about to separate from the military?
To help create a more seamless career transition, start at least six months before separation. Save as much cash in hand to support you and your family while you are finding the right career, which can help mitigate that stress over not working right away. Take time to reflect on a career choice and don’t just go get a job. As a service member, the mindset is to get the mission done, so we go out and get a job. To do that, many of us downplay our accomplishments on our resumes and become underemployed by accepting the first offer we receive. Also, when you are on the job hunt, it is a hunt. Go to every career fair you hear of, reach out to people to review and provide feedback to your resume, and practice interviewing with other people.
What advice would you give employers about hiring veterans?
Veterans bring many talents and skills to the table that employers are willing to pay for. With that talent comes a stigma. Most employers may assume it is some kind of disability such as PTSD, and what will that condition do to the current environment? Yes, some veterans are working through that, but veterans as a whole are going through a very stressful, dynamic, and quick turnaround when adapting to the corporate environment/transition out of the service. The adaptation also includes things as simple as no longer using military jargon or even proper dress standards – they are all a learning curve. Remember these men and women have been wearing a uniform in their last role and putting their life on the line on a regular basis. While there is no need to shy away from that stress, the simple acknowledgement of it helps. Something as simple as setting them up with a mentor enables an employer to have a very highly trained, and skilled employee who is loyal to fault.
Are you in a career transition as a veteran, or will soon be retiring or separating from the military? Then don’t miss BestCompaniesAZ’s 5th Annual Military Career Event on March 7! Meet hiring representatives from State Farm and many more veteran committed employers. Register today!
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HR Services Representative, Performance Support Team