“Do you want to come help veterans?”
It’s a question that has been asked of me twice recently and has given me the opportunity to address a regret from my time serving in the Obama administration: that I never had an opportunity to work directly with veterans in an official capacity. But during the first year of founding 580 Strategies, enthusiastically answering that question has opened the door to fulfilling ways to give back to the people who work every day to secure the freedoms the rest of us enjoy.
During the first weekend of June, I had the privilege of volunteering for my second “CORE” program hosted at the idyllic and impressive Deloitte University in Dallas. CORE stands for “Career Opportunity Redefinition and Exploration”. It’s a three-day, top-notch program for about 60 veterans per cohort that helps them navigate the transition from active duty military service to a fulfilling career in the private sector.
Many of the vets are leaving distinguished and storied careers in the armed services. Some of them have served multiple tours. For some, military is the only professional life they’ve known. Some have experienced extraordinary things in combat that civilians may have trouble identifying with. I met one participant who was responsible for managing teams for a “six gun artillery battery,” one who kept the logistics moving for an entire aircraft carrier, and another who had been awarded the Bronze Star! While we share a bond of public service, they've put their lives on the line to defend our nation and now it’s time to think about what will be next.
Put yourself in their place; you’re leaving a job that pays well and provides for all your basic needs, but in that job, you have very little say in where you go or what you do. “Sir, yes sir!” is a way of life. And now you are expected to leave that life and succeed in sectors that sometimes don’t align with the desired outcomes you are used to. These service men and women have already had one full career, but now, they need to start another. That’s where CORE comes in — helping them tell that story in a more relatable way and arming them with skills that set them up for success after their separation date.
With the challenge of separation from active duty comes great opportunity. How many times does a person get the chance to entirely reboot their professional life? These vets have the chance to springboard from military service into almost any sector they like. They’re largely limited only by their imagination and ability to pitch themselves!
A common attribute I’ve found among CORE participants is the motivation that they need to jump into something right away . They’re so used to driving hard to success and achievement for the team — to accomplish the mission — that they sometimes feel guilty or complacent if they’re not pursuing the next job with ferocity. My advice was to take the time they need to decompress, to unplug, to be a little selfish and to contemplate where their passion lies in the search for whatever may come next. Time to regenerate and regroup is crucial to being fulfilled in their new career paths. Along with the opportunity to start over, they get the chance to center themselves, and identify and follow their passions.
It’s hard to reinvent and reboot yourself — especially after a life of public or military service. It takes practice and refinement. The CORE program helps veterans define their strengths and mold them into a brand statement that will allow them to concisely articulate what they’re looking for in their new professional lives.
One of my favorite parts of the program was the session by Dorie Clark, author of Reinventing You, where she talked the participants through the exercise of finding their passions and leveraging their strengths. Her career coaching advice was some of the best I’ve ever seen and it gave participants many great new skills for their job search efforts.
Then, as the capstone for the program was another powerhouse guest speaker: Brad Snyder, author of Fire in My Eyes: An American Warrior’s Journey from Being Blinded on the Battlefield to Gold Medal Victory. Brad told his deeply personal story about being wounded in combat and having to radically alter and redefine himself while transitioning from an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) technician in Afghanistan to a gold medal winning Paralympic swimmer. He drove home the point that it is possible to radically reinvent yourself, find your passion, and thrive beyond your separation date.
The redefinition portion of the program helped the veterans find what they want to do in their next career step and teaches them actionable ways of making that vision a reality.
CORE also puts the veterans through the paces of practicing their skills through speed networking sessions and mock interviews. This is where external volunteers from other sectors like entrepreneurship or technology can make a big impact. Networking is practically a way of life for Beltway professionals, but for some veterans who have been laser-focused on executing their singular duty for years, they may have never learned these skills or have had the opportunity to practice them. During the Speed Networking sessions we got a chance to chat with about 10 veterans for five minutes each and provide constructive feedback on how they can pitch better and coach potential employers through how they can help along the veteran’s career journey.
Similarly, we conducted mock interviews and spent a good block of time with the veterans on the formal and informational aspects of the interview process. These interviews are really powerful when potential employers help the veterans put their best selves forward when the time comes for the real interviews — when their dream jobs may be on the line.
I am always very impressed with the participants’ accomplishments. They are innate team-players with some extraordinary skills. Most of them have managed millions of dollars of equipment and teams of people, and have done so in high stress environments. Who wouldn’t want that type of person working with them in civilian life? It all comes down to the veteran knowing their fit and being able to tell their story.
My grandfathers both served in the European theater of World War II. We owe the prosperity America enjoys today to the less than one percent of citizens who serve and the least we can do is support them as they transition into new careers and help them thrive in civilian life. That is why I love dedicating my time to great causes such as CORE and helping support these veterans as they write their next chapters.
Last year, I was fortunate to connect with a participant from the Air Force. We were in very similar situations in our lives; I had just transitioned from being a political appointee in government after 8 years, and he was separating from the military after two tours. I had formed my own technology consulting company and he was interested in technology consulting, and considering entrepreneurship as well. We agreed to stay in touch and had check-in calls once a month. He’d call while couch-surfing around the country and taking that time to regroup. But over the course of each call, I could tell his thinking was becoming more refined on what he wanted to do next.
Together, we dug into his options and I gave him my best advice on the pros and cons of owning a business versus working for one. After a lot of soul-searching and thoughtful consideration, he was ultimately offered two great positions at two amazing companies within the same week! I’m happy to report that he’s about six months into his new job with one of the top consulting companies in the world, and he’s loving it.
He’s just one of over 1,000 success stories that have come out of the CORE program. Just a little bit of focused follow-through to support these folks goes a long way.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
There is also an unexpected side effect of this pro-bono work: volunteers get just as much out of it as veterans do! Who doesn’t need a refresher on controlling your narrative, brushing up on your elevator pitch, or improving your speed networking skills? And along the way, you get to meet some extraordinary people with really great talents and make a few new friends.
I’m looking forward to the day when I can offer one of them a job on my own team! But in the meantime, I hope you’ll consider joining me in these actions you can take to give back and support our veterans:
- Spread the word about CORE and encourage your veteran friends who meet the eligibility requirements to apply.
- Consider becoming a mentor for the Veterati program and spend one hour a month mentoring veterans.
- Explore former First Lady Michelle Obama and Second Lady Jill Biden’s Joining Forces program for more ideas on how to give back.
- Ask your company to consider the Pledge 1% movement and select veteran support nonprofits as your program.