Sean Bruce has a formula for success that he wants to share with veterans seeking civilian employment.
Bruce spent 20 years in the Air Force as an avionics technician and instructor while enlisted, and during this time, he earned a degree in computer studies from Maryland University. Upon completing his degree, he went through OCS and was commissioned as an officer. As an officer, he spent ten years working as an Air Battle Manager for AWACS E-3, an airborne intelligence surveillance reconnaissance platform, deploying to the Middle East in support of Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom. He earned an MBA before retiring as a Major (O-4) in 2010.
Before separating, he networked aggressively and linked up with a buddy who was already out of the military. This connection earned him a spot as a senior consultant with Deloitte, which brought him to the East Coast. But after a few years packed with lots of travel, he decided to move his family back to Oklahoma to seek a job that kept him closer to home. Because he had registered on RecruitMilitary’s database and posted his resume there, he received an email alerting him about an upcoming career fair in Oklahoma City in January 2013.
Although there were many defense contractors at the career fair, Bruce also appreciated the wide array of reputable and diverse civilian companies in attendance. He had developed an “elevator speech” that he used when he noticed the MidFirst Bank table was momentarily empty. He shared his story and chatted with the recruiter, telling her about his transferrable skills. She suggested several positions that might be right for him, and asked him to apply for them on the bank’s career page. He underwent a phone interview and two face-to-face interviews before receiving an offer. He began working on April 15, 2013 as the Vice President of Change Management.
So how did his military skills transfer to banking and help him land the job? “Regulators like structure,” he says. They appreciated that he was well-organized and knew how to create frameworks, timelines and requirements – all skills he learned in the Air Force. His military background included compliance, standards and evaluation. Turns out those skills are also a good fit for banking because of the rigorous rules and scrutiny. “They want people who understand compliance. I would’ve never made that connection on my own,” he relates.
Bruce is now preparing MidFirst for the implementation of new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) rules slated to go into effect in January 2014, which govern how financial institutions interact with consumers. He has drawn upon his military skills to architect a vetting process and structure designed to evaluate each rule, which includes gap assessment; formal review and solution processes; compliance and legal department evaluation; and implementation. Because this framework is highly adaptable, the process is now being put into place in other areas at MidFirst.
Currently, he leads a group of four employees, and his change management team continues to grow. Because of their transferrable skills, he would definitely hire and train someone coming from the military.
His top five tips for veterans:
1. Expand your horizons. “You have transferrable skills,” he says. “For example, don’t be put off by thinking you need many years in financial services to work for a bank.”
2. Never let another person shut the door on you. This is a refrain Bruce repeated often to the airmen who worked for him. He encourages veterans to take advantage of all the opportunities they can while they are still in the service, including volunteering for assignments. “Most people don’t want to do that because it seems like extra work,” he admits, “but I saw it as an opportunity to learn new skills that I could use to market myself.” In that vein, he volunteered to participate in the Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century (AFSO 21) – a military version of the Lean Six Sigma program. He attended for free and earned a certification.
3. Tracking your projects pays off. Bruce points out that a lot of military work is project-based. He tracked, categorized and kept detailed notes on all the projects he worked on. After he retired, he was able to earn his Project Management Professional (PMP) certification using project hours he earned while still in the Air Force. He urges keeping connections and retaining contact information with people who worked with you on a project for audit protection as well.
4. Join a professional organization. “Transitioning military members should be involved in professional organizations, such as their local chapter of the Project Management Institute. It’s a great way to begin building civilian networks and get discounts to certification training and tests,” he declares. In fact, one of his Air Force colleagues retiring next year is already engaged in his local PMI chapter, taking advantage of discounted training. He will complete his PMP certification before he retires.
5. Don’t be bashful. “Be prepared to sell yourself. That can be a hard thing to do coming from the team environment of the military, but you’ve got to step out of your comfort zone and tell a recruiter what you’ve done.”