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Monday, April 21, 2014

Veterans Series: Ten recommendations to veterans. A conversation with Max Dubroff

This post is part of a series that already includes conversations with:

Max Dubroff is the"HR MAXimizer" of Buy for Le$$, a leading grocery provider of fresh, diverse, unique and economical food products in Oklahoma which he joined in 2009 after over 20 years in the military. He graduated from the US Air Force Academy and selected the Security Police career field, which he says was "a fantastic decision.  I learned tremendous amounts about leadership and had many opportunities to have positive impacts on the mission and people.  For one-fourth of my career, I was entrusted with command of two squadrons, the most rewarding role in my life."  If I had to summarize Max's approach, I would say that he never left his life entirely up to chance and instead deliberately created his own luck with amazing focus and determination.

What did you do to transition from the Military to a civilian position?
I got educated.  I earned a degree in human resource management 17 years prior to retirement, because I thought I might like that field; it was a key differentiator and helped me earn more.

I was mentally prepared.  Although I was never impacted by a RIF (Reduction-in-Force), I realized that everyone needs to be prepared at all times. My professional readings included books and magazines that helped me get an understanding of the culture outside the military, particularly in business. I went to transition assistance twice, once prior to retirement in Germany and then while on terminal leave in Oklahoma. Both were a little out of touch with what companies really want, but they helped me figure out my own path.

I networked.  I found a great mentor in the HR field who specializes in networking. I joined Toastmasters; I went to Rotary meetings; I joined the local HR professionals organization... None of it got me a job.  But, I was learning more about the community. I got certified.  I studied for professional certification and earned it.  Military certifications do not mean much to civilian employers. I looked everywhere.  I had to get over the idea of working for the #1 company in the area and look at industries I had not considered.  I accepted every interview opportunity and saw it as a chance to hone my skills; that is how I found my job ... I wasn't looking at them, but I was ready for when I met them. I accepted a challenging position in a company that was strong and growing, that I knew I could have a great impact on.  I didn't get paid as much as I wanted, but I knew I would earn more as I proved my value.

What are your top ten recommendations to veterans?
 1. You're not the only ones who work hard.  Small and medium businesses (i.e. the majority of businesses that exist) have a level of 'do more with less' that exceeds what most veterans can fathom.  Sure, there are some nice, laid-back companies out there; but, many of them are getting passed by the smart, hard-working ones.

 2. It is competitive.  Don't presume that 'qualified' is enough ... There are plenty of people who are qualified.  Know yourself and have a focus on what you want. Note that as a hiring manager, I am turned off by someone who says, "I'll do anything" because it won't be a good marriage."

 3. Look for entry points to organizations you want.  It might not be the dream job at first, but it will give you the opportunity to prove your value and progress to that dream job after a long time. The military culture typically thinks in shorter 'tours' than civilian businesses, so be ready to persist.

 4. Be realistic.  Picture yourself in the military, having numerous years of experience ... and then they announce that they are bringing in a person who has extensive experience in leading businesses ... to be your commander!  How absurd, right?  Well, the same logic applies to you.  Don't expect to enter the business world at (or near) the top after having no experience in their industry [see #2 above].

 5. Learn the civilian jargon.  I met a retired E-8 who wrote on his resume that he was the chief operations officer for his organizations.  He had no idea what that meant and his rationalization exposed his weaknesses.  Yes, we hope they will accommodate us and try to figure out what our jargon means; but, they are looking at piles of resumes and you want yours to stand out.

 6. A good resume takes lots of work; but a good resume won't get you a job.  You need a great resume to even get noticed, and that will take tons of work.  Buy or borrow some books and get advice from others.  Trim it down and make it focused on the key points.  Leave white space and make it readable.

 7. Interview a lot.  Every interview is different and you will learn about yourself and be better prepared for the most important interview when the opportunity comes.

 8. Do not pay for assistance right away.  Resume writing services are most helpful if you have been working on your resume for months and can't see the next rendition.  There are also agencies that will help prep, network and place you for a mere $3k-$4k. I haven't seen a good one yet, but I am sure they are out there.  Make sure you do your homework and check their results carefully before you open your wallet.

 9. Volunteer.  It's a great way to network and develop some experience.  During my employment, I have continued to volunteer, which has resulted in more great leadership opportunities, including a position as a board chair and nomination to be a commissioner.

 10. Be real and positive.  The interview is not just about them deciding if they like you; it is also about you deciding if you like them!  Use this as the opportunity to prevent getting into a bad relationship.  Look at non-selection as a chance to re-evaluate what you are and what you want.  If you come into the interview exhausted and beaten by repeated rejection, I will not be interested.

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