20 May 2015

The weight on your shoulders

As we know, leadership carries with it more than just a title - it is comes with additional responsibilities. In a literal sense, these responsibilities should not be taken lightly. At times, that weight may be more than we can bear or sometimes it may even be absent. How much weight we should bear should be somewhat consistent with the position we hold.

As you are given your initial leadership duties, you tend to feel a deep sense of responsibility. Now you are responsible for those soldiers that are your subordinates. If you don’t feel this weight, I would start to question whether you are really accepting those responsibilities or just passing the weight off to another soldier. As you progress in your career, you should bear more weight as you are given more responsibility. If you are that leader whose last thoughts for the day are of your soldiers, then you understand what a tremendous responsibility you have. 

If this system is disproportionate, you will find that some leaders carry the weight of others. When you see a leader that is more concerned about his or her personal wellbeing, then you know that he/she passed that weight to another. You will often find a subordinate leader carrying the additional weight. If this behavior continues, roles and responsibilities will be blurred as the expectations and burdens will be passed to those that understand what it means to be a leader. The end result will be a subordinate carrying twice the load they should be. 

As a leader, the military expects much of you. You are there to lead your soldiers and set the example. Your soldiers will be able to sense your commitment to your position, or lack thereof. This could be no more evident than when GA Dwight D. Eisenhower took command for what would be the largest amphibious assault in history. To pass the time and get some perspective on his anxiety, GA Eisenhower scribbled a memoranda in his journal listing all of the things that were worrying him. “Probably no one who does not have to bear the specific and direct responsibility of making the final decision as to what to do can understand the intensity of these burdens,” he wrote.

Leadership does create burdens for soldiers. These burdens should be met with recognition that you are there for more than yourself. Others now depend on you. If you don’t willfully accept this, you may do more harm than you could ever imagine. Too much weight on a junior soldier could crush him as he is bearing that weight more than his own. If you don’t realize how much weight you should be carrying, you may not have enough. Too many gleefully move on in their career without realizing the impact they are having. Many of the duties are passed off to others while they may fail to realize what is really expected of them. This is the greatest disservice to our soldiers as a leader. 

Comment below or start the conversation here and connect within the military community.

18 May 2015

Logical Fallacies: The Enemy of Any Argument

We, as a military service, tend to be of the logical variety. We attempt to approach issues logically and methodically in order to find and administer the best solutions for the problems at hand. We are well trained in putting aside the majority of our emotions in order to successfully accomplish the mission in the most efficient, effective, and safe way possible. The problem with being logical all the time though, is it is not an infallible method. We sometimes run into logical fallacies. Logical fallacies, the enemy of any argument, can come in many shapes and sizes.

When attempting to argue a point, no matter the position you take, some of these fallacies may find their way into your discussion. Many people will agree that the best way to solve an issue is to approach it rationally and logically and decide upon the solution that is best, even if it might be unpopular. In many arguments you may see one debater or the other attempting to use emotions to rile up listeners or supporters to their cause. While this is an effective method to garner and win support, it rarely leads to what could be deemed as the right choice. In the American political arena, we often see these emotional attacks coming from both sides in order to fire up the base of support. Issues such as gay marriage, abortion, assisting the poor, and many others can utilize emotion to get support for or against a specific cause.

Sometimes in politics we can also see the logical fallacies abused in order to score points with voters as well. More often than not we see attacks specifically against the other candidate instead of against his position, which is a logical fallacy. When attempting to find and direct the most efficient and effective solutions, it is generally best to be logical about things, but that will always have the weakness of logical fallacies.

Even as a largely logical compendium of people such as RallyPoint, we find ourselves falling into the trappings of logical fallacies. Many examples of these types have been included in the picture that was added to this post. How can we best understand these fallacies and attempt to remove them from our arguments in order to logically arrive at the best solutions? Do you find yourselves falling into these traps often? Should we as military professionals strive to be above them?

Comment below or start the conversation here and connect within the military community.

13 May 2015

One main reason relationships matter

As the global economy, sharing economy, and web 3.0 take shape, a common thread has emerged: the ability to operate in a vacuum and accomplish amazing things by one’s self is becoming less and less likely. Teams are driving change at a rapid pace, and teams are built on relationships. With each passing day, I believe relationships matter more and more because without successful relationships, teams cannot come close to reaching their potential.

I learned deeply about why relationships matter at age 23 and I learned the hard way. I learned about relationships at Army Ranger School. While this Forbes article shows how teams in business can relate to sports (http://www.forbes.com/2010/08/05/teams-teamwork-individuals-leadership-managing-collaboration.html), I found pockets of the military hold even more accurate analogies to the teams I now work on in business.

In the mountain phase of Ranger School, located in the frigid landscape of Dahlonega, Georgia, my body began to fail. Bone chilling night time temperatures and around thirty minutes of sleep spread over the course of three days drained the little strength I had left from prior phases of the course. One day, the pain in my legs and shoulders reached a new, unbearable level while climbing a seemingly unending mountain. Some extra radios and gear created a load of around 130 pounds in my rucksack. On a few occasions, I felt as if the huge backpack was going to flip me backwards and down the hillside. I was so exhausted; I would have welcomed the fall just to alleviate the pain.

When the climb was finally over and the rucksack was off my back, I could barely move, and I still needed to fulfill my mission planning responsibilities for the next day. I had worked side-by-side with my dear friend and Ranger Buddy, Ryan, for several weeks and he could see the pain in my eyes. Ryan asked about my remaining duties, told me to get rest, and shouldered my mission planning responsibilities. I probably slept for only thirty minutes, but that half hour felt like eternity. When I woke up, I felt reborn. Later in the mission, I helped Ryan in the same manner, and together we accomplished many times what neither could have done individually, succeeding in missions and graduating from Ranger School. Were it not for that incredible bond of a Ranger buddy relationship, I would not have graduated and would not be where I am today.

Later in my Army experiences, and in the private sector, my greatest accomplishments occurred not during fits of solitary effort, but rather, as a result of the relationships I fostered over time and the collective results of the teams on which I served.

Years after Ranger School was over, relationships mattered again when I was looking at a job post-military. Despite the valuable leadership and managerial experiences from the Army and Ranger school, no company where I lived was knocking on the door to offer me a job. Instead, relationships created options. I reached out to a friend who worked at a company I admired, and after a long series of interviews, I landed a position at an exciting electric car company called Tesla Motors. Not only did my friend help me get the position, but he took me under his wing and taught me more than I ever expected to learn about corporate finance, tooling, automotive supply chain, and cost reduction strategies.

Working at a company built on data around human connections, I have been in a unique position to watch some of the recent changes in how these trends affect today’s knowledge workers. Even with all of the most complete and real-time data on the planet, I doubt we will change the world. However, with authentic human relationships, with teams built from this foundation, I think we can.

Each individual human has amazing capabilities, yet I am convinced teams - teams driven by relationships - will solve the problems of the 21st century. Do you think relationships are becoming more valuable?

About the author:
Ben Faw is a guest contributor to Lifeguides, and a prior contributor to CNN, Business Insider, Military.com, and several other publishers on issues ranging from business school to military members transition into the private sector. 
Follow Ben on Twitter: @btfaw 

Comment below or start the conversation here and connect within the military community.

12 May 2015

Your Business Needs Veterans

If you’re looking for a lesson in clich├ęs and platitudes, the argument for hiring veterans is chock-full of them. Words like leadership and teamwork populate every report or article that is written on the subject, as well they should. However, the conversation requires a depth and substance that is often missing when these cases are made. To make a positive difference in the advancement of veteran employment opportunities, we must not rely on the same tired language. If pictures paint a thousand words, statistics and data driven examples will be the da Vinci of this movement. 

At this year's Council of Colleges and Military Educators symposium in Anaheim, I spoke on the topic of marketing student veterans for employment. I set out to supply a guide to the language and research that supports success. Two things became clear as I prepared my presentation: the language is pretty standard across the board, and not many statistics were included in the research I found. The few I discovered were mostly character driven, culled from the anecdotal responses of CEOs and human resource professionals. While these responses were almost universally positive, subjective language and opinions do not stand up well to opposition. I saw this first hand during a conversation; I spouted off the positive character traits that veterans bring to the workplace, and the other party countered that I was biased. I am a veteran, after all, so my response sounded self-serving. Many civilians boast the same great qualities that veterans possess, so how could I paint all veteran employees with the same brush?

The stats actually do support the argument that veterans are good for business. A 2013 study by the Corporate Executive Board Company (CEB) “shows that veteran hires are more valuable employees. Veterans, on average, perform at higher levels (avg. +4%) and are less likely to turnover (avg. -3%) generating significant business outcomes. Doing the math: For a company of 1,000 employees and average revenue per employee of $150,000, decreasing turnover by 3% saves $1.3 million annually, and increasing performance by 4% improves revenue by $6 million."

The veteran employment movement needs more data like the CEB stats above. Unfortunately, for all the companies advertising their efforts to hire veterans and appear “military friendly,” few are making the effort to track this segment of their employee population. Collecting and sharing that data will strengthen the argument that hiring veterans is good for business. Until then, we’re shooting blanks in a live-fire battle. It doesn't take a military historian to figure out the odds in that scenario.

Andy McCarty is the Director of Veteran and Military Services at Northeastern University. He is also a veteran of the U.S. Air Force and a board member of the National Association of Veteran's Program Administrators. 

To learn more about Northeastern’s commitment to servicemembers and veterans, please visit: http://rly.pt/northeastern-uni

Comment below or start the conversation here and connect within the military community.

11 May 2015

What the general public doesn't see

I’ve decided to write about what people outside of the service don’t see when we are deployed, or even stateside. To begin this, if you have not read/seen “The Giver”, stop reading and execute. It will make this post make more sense.

In “The Giver”, a child is given the job of learning all of the memories that are shielded from the general public. This includes war, famine, and general suffering. It also includes things like seeing in color and some emotions. This got me thinking about how members of the military shield the general public from some of the worst things they could see in person.

We all know there are tons of photos and videos that depict war, suffering, and general violence. Many of us know someone who has experienced it. But, I am focusing on the wartime aspect of it. There is a large difference between seeing a person being shot in cold blood on TV and seeing burned bodies lining the streets that you are patrolling. The latter are the things that some of us have seen but have never shown the world. It is one of the burdens we have as members of the military.

We fight for those that can’t or won’t and, because of this, we have to see some of the worst things imaginable. This becomes all the more true while dealing with groups such as the Islamic State who have no problem executing large groups of people on video for the world to see.

How do we deal with this? Everyone has his or her own ways. For some, it’s at the bottom of a bottle of pills. For others, video games or physical fitness are they keys. We use these to help us cope and maybe forget the things we have seen and had to experience. Seeing a photo of a dead Afghan extremist is nothing compared to being the one who found him there.

We try to tell some people about we saw and how it affected us, but words will never compare to the visual scars that we all have. It is just another example of what most recruiters won’t tell you (no offense to the ones who give it straight to the recruits). All of us can agree that the service changes us, and for those who have seen war at its worst, how much being there affects us.

So what is the point of this Command Post? To enlighten you, and to let you know that you are not alone. There are thousands of other service members who have seen things that they may never fully understand. I urge you to find someone to talk to. The military has a generous amount of talk lines dedicated to service members in distress if you do not feel comfortable talking to someone in person. Get help, because one day, your service will come to an end and you will have missed the opportunity to use some of these services. You won’t miss the opportunity because they aren’t available once you get out, but it just may be harder to find someone to connect with.

Comment below or start the conversation here and connect within the military community.

06 May 2015

Jefferson, Pirates, and Ideology

Like many of you, I read the cover story, “Why Do The Best Soldiers in the World Keep Losing?” in an issue of The Atlantic with great interest. Reading that article combined with some other discussions, research, and internal dialogue has led me to something that seems obvious in regards to our post 9/11 Middle East actions.

I came to this conclusion: for the past 14 years we have been fighting a kinetic war in the Middle East and avoiding the war we need to fight – the ideological one.  

I would argue our political correctness has gotten the better of us and hampered our defense strategy and foreign policy. At the very least, it has prevented us from having the open conversation necessary to define the strategy we need in the war of ideology and how we intend to act on that strategy. 

To get the discussion going, I offer up Thomas Jefferson and pirates...

Before Thomas Jefferson was the President of the United States, he was the Ambassador to France (following Benjamin Franklin). Roughly a year into his term, he faced a problem with U.S. ships being captured and their crews sold into slavery by Islamic states along the Barbary Coast.

In the spring of 1786, Thomas Jefferson asked the Ambassador of Tripoli why the Barbary Coast Islamic pirates were attacking U.S. ships when the U.S. had never warred on Tripoli. The Ambassador replied:

“It was written in their Koran, that all nations which had not acknowledged the Prophet were sinners, whom it was the right and duty of the faithful to plunder and enslave; and that every Mussulman who was slain in this warfare was sure to go to paradise.”

The Ambassador went on to describe how the Barbary Coast states used terror to force the enemy to surrender quickly without much of a fight. This concept of attacking the soul of the enemy is still in use today by the terrorist organizations that threaten our national security.

My point in bringing up a 229-year-old story is to point out that 229 years ago, Americans were targets of an ideology and 229 years later, that ideological strategy has not changed. 

One of the most significant ideological texts on Jihad, written in 1979 by a former Pakistani General, expands on the belief of attacking the soul of the enemy through acts of terror:

'Kill the enemy or convert them by raging an individual war of terror against non-believers, only this will bring back the greatness of the Caliphate [Empire of Islam] and the sovereignty of Allah on Earth.' 

Once you connect the 229 years together and realize we are facing an ideological war where bullets alone cannot win, the sooner we can actually make progress.

Comment below or start the conversation here and connect within the military community.

05 May 2015

Why the Navy can benefit from a new personnel network

Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter seems like a man on a mission. After a conference of senior commanders that reportedly included a ban on PowerPoint, SECDEF has set his sights on defense personnel management systems. Luckily, the Navy has already started some overhauls to its personnel records systems. The “My Navy Portal” system is the first step to making sense of the tangled web of websites now required for Sailors to manage their records. At first look, it seems promising.

If you’re like me, “My Navy Portal” (MNP) brings with it the feelings of excitement and dread heretofore only experienced by Chicago Cubs fans. The excitement: military personnel raised on the Internet (those pesky Millennials you’ve read so much about) may finally graduate from the opaque labyrinth of websites, mass emails, spreadsheets, and smoke-filled rooms that generates orders to Fallon. The dread: the Navy will over-engineer the whole thing and inevitably screw it up. But take heart, I’m an O-4 with some ideas for Big Navy, that’s a recipe for success if I ever heard one.

Before we dig into ideas for the future, let’s take a fantastic voyage through four of the most common Navy websites that are probably related to personnel management. I say probably because who actually knows? Not included in this quick rundown: NKO, FLTMPS, myPay, DTS, iNavy, ESAMS, NFAAS, TRiPS, and who knows how many other sites?

The BUPERS website, which will help me drop my letter, call (but not email, oddly) my detailers (disclaimer: other communities provide email addresses; but my community currently lists just the detailers’ callsigns, which, to many aviators’ dismay, are not searchable in Outlook), and find other broadly career-related info, but doesn’t say much about my snowflake-like journey through this big scary Navy. It also links to…

BUPERS ON LINE (BOL). This site has everything! My PRT info is in a fairly non-user friendly subsystem called PRIMS. My record is called an OMPF, and it’s a compilation of scanned copies of documents that don’t talk to my other record, which is my OSR, or maybe it’s my ODC, or maybe it’s… Well, it’s triplicated at least and seems pretty comprehensive. Unless I get a new medal (and I will, because everyone does), then I have to update…

NDAWS, which is maintained by my command admin (not me) and has records of all my decorations, except unit awards. Those live…

On NSIPS! Unlike the other sites, this is the Navy’s INTEGRATED PERSONNEL SYSTEM! So it should talk to all the other sites and make BOL, NDAWS, and the BUPERS site obsolete. Except it doesn’t.

Case study:

When you’re up for a board, the board separates your record from your OSR (which is fed by a DOS based system maintained by a thousand monkeys on a thousand typewriters in a basement in Millington, probably). It looks older than NAVFIT98 (as in 1998, as in the year next year’s new enlistees were born), our evaluation system, which doesn’t talk to any websites and requires me to print out and fax or email my FITREP to the board when things don’t line up (true for any item missing from my record). Because one day computers will talk to each other, but they don’t in 1998.

Anyway, if the copy of your record that a board will see has issues, you’ll have no idea unless your detailer calls you. Because detailers are the only ones who can look at the record that the board will actually evaluate ahead of time. And if there’s a problem, you can correct it on your OSR (or ODC, or OSR, or NDAWS, or PRIMS, or NAVFIT, or Friendster, or wherever) as much as you want, but it won’t go to the board unless you email it to them. Helpfully, you can download most items from your OMPF on the BUPERS website and send it back to BUPERS.
Technically you’re emailing the board, which meets right next to BUPERS, but sequesters itself from your OMPF, a system that doesn’t feed your summarized record (OSR), which is what feeds the board. (Confused? You should be.)

Sometimes, detailers miss problems because they’re using a million different computer systems too. Or, they’ll contact you and tell you there’s a problem when there isn’t. For example, my detailer told me that I had three instances of an award, when I actually only earned two. He said it was no big deal because the board would only have two citations… so to the board it’ll just look like I’m a dummy who can’t manage his own record. Which is true (the record part, not the dummy part).

This is just the surface. I’ve also got information for which I’m responsible on NKO, DEERS, DTS, NFAAS, myPay, milconnect, move.mil, and who knows what else? (A new one appears every month, it seems.) The best part is that none of these sites seem to share information, since I’m constantly logging on to different sites to verify information that exists elsewhere. When we bought a house, my address had to be updated in no fewer than four sites, including one or two that I had no direct input to at all.

Meanwhile, my phone connects my contacts, social media, calendar, and photos of my lunch seamlessly and allows anyone I know to find out everything about me in moments. But my job is completely stovepiped, it’s scattered across a dozen websites with outdated security certificates, partially correct information, and redundant info. There’s no central place to go to find out what jobs are available, what awards I have, what my leave balance is, or even who my boss is (or his boss, or his boss, or their contact info). When I want a new job somewhere, I ask around, find out who knows the skipper or XO of that unit is, see if someone will vouch for me, maybe arrange a phone call or interview, and then beseechingly implore the detailer to please, please, please get me that job.

But I only know what’s happening around me if my detailer tells me. If there’s a need for a reasonably-likeable, French-speaking, baseball-loving, 1320 out there (is there?), the only way to know is word of mouth and/or a wink and a nod from the detailer, who may not want me there because he’s trying to groom me for command. But what if that’s where I want to go? Why can’t I search for jobs that would fit my interests, contact the responsible CO/XO, talk timing, and then see if my detailer can make it work?

I’m here to serve, but maybe, over the course of ten years, I’ve learned that I serve better as the US Navy’s baseball fan liaison to the French Navy than I do as the guy handing out the basketballs at the base gym (I assume that’s an O-4 billet). What if the CO of the US Navy Sports Fan Liaison Brigade (again, I assume that’s a thing) knows what he needs but can’t find me, his dream employee?

I know, nightmare scenario. Let’s get practical.

SECDEF mentions social networking sites as a potential model. Sites like LinkedIn and RallyPoint look to create a social network for professionals and military members (not necessarily mutually inclusive, am I right?) to make connections and hopefully make those dream job/dream employee match-ups happen. But why doesn’t the Navy do this on its own using My Navy Portal (MNP) as a starting point?

I’m sure the answer relies on something like, “different contracts for each website,” [PDFs] and “it would cost too much to set up,” and “security concerns,” which are probably partially true. But they’re also excuses for doing a poor job of managing people. I’ve seen Sailors explain to their CO that something was too hard to do, citing bureaucratic inertia, too many different source documents, and an undue burden on personal time. Imagine the results for that poor Sailor.

In the words of one of my COs: “Hard is authorized.”

What would this mythical unicorn look like? Well, disclaimer, I am not a web designer or programmer or even a fan of “the Big Bang Theory,” but here’s my idea.

Each command becomes its own “community” and the assigned personnel are members of that community. Important to this process would be tagging each unit with pertinent information: “sea duty,” “staff job,” “kinetic operations,” “FA-18 Super Hornet,” “Chick-Fil-A out front gate,” so that by association, each member of that command has those attributes by virtue of being there.

In addition, each Sailor’s quals, awards, evaluations, and even family information can be entered in the system (it looks like MNP will possibly incorporate some of these things eventually). So now a Sailor is associated with a level of experience, specific qualifications, and personal performance.

Imagine being a unit CO. He needs a 12XX that has experience on a sea-going staff, was a command legal officer, and loves Diet Coke (don’t ask why). He can use this site to search for legal-o’s on sea-going staffs and neck it down from there, or he can just hunt down 12XXs who love Diet Coke by searching the whole Navy (spoiler alert: it’s everyone).

If I want to move to El Centro and run the Motorcycle Safety program, I can find the guy who’s in the job, and start the conversation just by searching “middle of nowhere” and “motorcycles.” We talk, we figure out that the timing looks good, and I reach out to my detailer, who consults the monkeys in the basement (I assume they’ll survive the digital revolution), and ba-da-bing, I’m packing up my wife and kids and heading to La Pasadita for celebratory burritos.

Anyone who’s transferred to a new command has learned one thing: They are the first person ever to transfer between commands, apparently. Currently, the number of datapoints and web databases and phone trees that need to get updated when transferring between commands is almost uncountable. But what if it was as simple as the admin chief from the old unit clicking a “detach” button on your profile and the new chief clicking “attach”? Boom, you’re transferred. Take a second to update your address and the site pushes that info to DEERS, myPay and other non-Navy sites, and you’re set. These DoD sites will probably survive the purge, but let’s make our Navy site capable of talking to them so you don’t have to.

Using a social network construct would let you easily explore your chain of command (if each unit is a community, the small communities can be grouped under the larger ones, from squadron, to wing, to TYCOM, etc.). If you were tagged with your rank and designator, then you could also be tagged with a detailer, or your profile could just have a link that says “My Detailer” or “BUPERS FOR ME!” or something.

Command pages could host instructions, calendars, admin information, addresses, photos, phone numbers, etc. Personal pages could include dream sheets, private messaging options, even chat (you know the Navy loves its chat!) so that when you find the guy with the job you want, you can start a conversation right away.

Gone are the days of hand-updated phone trees or scrambling to update command biographies for changes of command. A brief career summary could be easily displayed on your profile page; once the old skipper leaves, the chief changes the XO’s job to CO and a little note says: “CDR Schmuckatelli assumed command of Basketball Distribution Det ONE on 15 April 2015” on his profile.

The unit’s “community” page could even have a setting that creates a sanitized public profile that doubles as the command’s website, a constantly updating social network page.

My page would have my personal info, my quals, my awards, my chain of command, e-leave links (which would live on this site, not an external one), my FITREPs (ditto), and a nice summary of my career (2000: assembled in the Naval Architecture lab at the Naval Academy).

Again, I am by no means a web guy, so I can’t tell you which 1 goes next to which 0, or how many pages have to be made, or how much it will cost. But I can see that this sort of site could have huge growth potential. I don’t know who’s in charge of making this happen; it has to be someone who works for VADM Moran, but there isn’t an intuitive social media page where I can find out who BUPERS’s “Director of Future Social Media” is… yet.

In this man’s humble opinion, the link between records management, career management, detailing, and job searching needs to be the future vision for My Navy Portal (which, by the way, is not the worst name ever; a million thanks for not making it a ridiculous acronym, ugh). It would be a massive undertaking, but one that could revolutionize our personnel system, reduce administrative distractions, comply with SECDEF’s vision, and lead the way for changes throughout the military.

Sure it sounds tough; but remember, Big Navy: hard is authorized.

Comment below or start the conversation here and connect within the military community.

04 May 2015

Using Career Conferences To Boost Your Interviewing And Job Search Skills

There are dozens of career conferences offered to veterans to help find a job. Go to one even if you're not ready so you can get some practice for when you are ready.

If you’re preparing to leave the military you might feel, like I did, the impending stress of going through interviews. I hadn’t been formally interviewed for a job in over ten years. I wasn’t exactly ready to sign up for a new career, yet. Most of my job search was going to be done during my terminal leave, giving me a couple months of paid time off to line up a new career. So about a month before my last day in the Marine Corps, I tried to figure out a way to get some real life practice in — train like you fight, right? There were a couple hiring conferences and networking events that I had scheduled for that period, events where I knew I’d be interested in the companies and positions offered. However, I didn’t want those opportunities to be the first time I was interviewed. So even though I wasn’t entirely prepared or even interested in finding a job yet, I figured I’d give it a try anyway. Learn by doing, as they say. 

To maximize the experience, I replied to one of the recruiting companies that I’m sure most service members have been spammed by throughout their careers. The recruiters had been sending me e-mails since the day I was commissioned. I finally gave them a call and after a few chats and passing along my resume, I was scheduled for one of their hiring conferences where they brought in a couple dozen companies looking for veteran talent. The recruiting firm tried to match me with ones that I might be a good fit with, but remember, this was going to be a learning experience, so I was valuing quantity over quality at this point. I pushed to have another interview added to the list for me, bringing the total number to 6. Not bad for a weekend. 

The best thing about conferences like these is that you get feedback from the recruiter that was given to them by the people who just interviewed you. It’s a great way to improve upon your interviewing skills, because if you were doing this on your own, you generally don’t get any reply from the company at all, other than a, “Thank you for coming,” if you’re lucky. Another big plus was just getting a better understanding of the hiring conference structure. On day 1, all of the candidates got briefed on the different companies and positions, giving us some opportunities to fine-tune what we would be saying during the interviews. On day 2 and 3, interviews were lined up throughout the day, in various hotel rooms at the conference. I quickly learned that I had to be on my game and well prepared before showing up, because some interview were back-to-back and the companies might be from widely different industries (energy vs. pharmaceuticals), the positions could be completely different (project management vs. sales), or the companies might be direct competitors. Keeping everything straight required a lot of reviewing of the notes from the briefs on Day 1. One final benefit — when you get that many interviews in a row, you start getting used to the pressure and you get more comfortable just going through it. 

I did reasonably well at the conference and had the opportunity to line up a few follow up interviews afterward. While I still had little interest in taking most of these jobs, I still wanted to continue the process for as long as possible to learn as much as I could. I didn’t feel like I was being disingenuous with any of these companies. If I was truly impressed with a position, I might take it. That just wasn’t my priority at the time. And I’m glad I went through with the follow ups because it’s a totally different game than going for job interviews at a conference. It ended up being quite the rigmarole, coordinating follow ups around working hours, taking phone calls at all hours, and using leave to go on more interviews.  It’s true what they say, looking for a job is a full time job in itself, and it certainly felt like I was balancing two jobs, my day job and my job search, at times. And the interviews weren’t all sit-downs, one-on-one. Now I’d be visiting offices, going on sales calls, or interviewing on the phone. Getting placed in these scenarios was exactly what I was trying to learn more about. And I saw that getting a job is a lot longer process than I’d imagined.

In the end, I didn’t take a job from this first round of interviews, although I did come close. It was well worth the effort still, as I was far better prepared for my interviews and follow-ups at later conferences, where I eventually did take an offer. If you’re in a position where you can take an opportunity like this to learn and fail with little consequences, I would suggest going for it. Getting that experience was just as valuable to me, and probably far more so, than just going over interview questions and refining my resume all day. All of this experience was invaluable for my next run of interviews about a month later. I was more confident, had well refined answers, and was more prepared to answer questions about my background. That’s why I’d suggest taking just about any interview you can early on in the process and to take it as far as you can, if only to get more comfortable with the process.

Comment below or start the conversation here and connect within the military community.

29 April 2015

The Transition: Bringing on Shore Power

Moving from active duty to the civilian world has many challenges. One big difference is that between civilian employment and that of military discipline. I remember the uncertainty and downright fear I experienced during my transition from the Navy. After finding a job, I faced another set of challenges trying to fit into a work environment that was anything BUT one of military discipline. I hope to help my fellow Nuclear Navy brothers and sisters navigate the path from active duty to the civilian side of life. My experiences focus mostly on commercial nuclear power plants and the companies that run them. I’ve made the transition from Bubblehead Nuke to a recognized industry expert in my field (I suppose you’ll have to take my word on that…). Hopefully my experiences can help you lift the “fog of war” regarding your future career choices. We’ll take a look at some of the “work culture” differences between the Navy and the commercial nuclear power world. What’s it like being a member of a union work environment? (Management likes to call them “collective bargaining units”.)

I’ll start with the one thing that was the most different from my time in the military. Here’s a little secret:  NOTHING happens quickly at a commercial nuclear power plant. It can take DAYS to reach 100% power output AFTER the unit is at NOT/NOP and “hot behind the stops”. The other big change? Bargaining units and unions. Full disclosure:  I’ve never been IN a union, never had a permanent assignment to supervise union workers, and grew up in a place where the only union workers were the postal workers. I have a historical and experiential bias, but it’s not personal.

Straight to it - commercial nuclear power is completely compartmentalized. Only operators perform operations work, only electricians work on electrical components, only mechanics work on mechanical components. And, only the rad techs do radiological monitoring and clean up. To “do someone else’s work” is a horrible thing. What that means to a former Navy engineering type is simple: you will NOT be operating the plant on Tuesday, doing maintenance on Wednesday, or repair work on Thursday. Here’s an example: A motor-driven pump is out of service because both the pump and the motor need to be worked. First, the operators will shut down the system, isolate the pump and drain the system. Then they’ll hang the “red tags” for protection. The mechanics will then come in, check the “red tags” for themselves, disconnect the pump from the motor, and then work the pump. The electricians will come in afterwards, check the “red tags” for themselves, and work the motor. When everything’s done, the work groups come back in the reverse order to get the system up again.

There’s a lot of “preparation” time. Each work group will have “morning briefs” and “pre-job briefs” and “safety briefs” and “radiological briefs”. It is NOT uncommon to spend only 90-120 minutes actually “turning a wrench” in a 4-hour morning. If you’re the type who has to stay busy the whole time you’re at work, you might go a little nuts with the processes. 

The other thing is seniority. You think the military has a rigid hierarchy? Everything goes by seniority in the shops. Overtime pick. Shift pick. Crew pick. Holiday pick. Vacation pick. If you stay in the same shop, you’ll have a lot of opportunity to get really good at one or two things. If you’re the type who likes to do one thing, and be the best at it, and you can do that one thing over and over… you’ll thrive here.

The benefits of being in a collective bargaining unit are tremendous. You’ll never be paid less than someone else doing the same job. Pay is OUTSTANDING. Hourly rates in the high $20’s per hour are pretty standard, and time and a half for overtime. YES - overtime is real! And double time for holidays, and then lunch pay, and shift premium, and…etc. Your job is very well protected in a union. It’s very difficult to fire a union worker other than for poor performance. And if there are layoffs, the seniority kicks in again.

In short, great pay, great job security, little to no “job movement”, very rigid seniority structure that commands almost every decision, and you’ll always be doing pretty much the same thing. There’s no way anyone can perfectly describe this environment, but I hope I’ve cracked the window a bit!

Comment below or start the conversation here and connect within the military community.

28 April 2015

Uvize: How A Navy Veteran Launched A Scrappy Technology Startup

Dave Cass is the CEO and Co-founder of Uvize, a technology startup focused on helping military Veterans succeed in higher education. Cass and the Uvize team have been leveraging their military training and experience to build a scrappy technology company in Boulder, Colorado.

After commissioning as a U.S. Navy officer through the ROTC program at Tulane University, Dave Cass became a naval aviator and flew SH-60B Seahawk helicopters. After ten years on active-duty, Cass chose to prioritize his family life and separate from the Navy.

Like many transitioning Veterans, Cass took a job with a large corporation upon leaving the military. Cass joined Sun Microsystems in Broomfield, Colorado and led efforts to craft business strategies for international markets.

While Cass found career success in corporate America, he missed the camaraderie and continual education he had enjoyed in the Navy. It was the desire to rekindle those feelings that drew him to pursue higher education through a graduate program at the University of Colorado. As a graduate student, Cass became passionate about helping other Veterans find success in higher education.

At the University of Colorado, Cass met David Parker, a U.S. Air Force Veteran, who was using the GI Bill to fund his second master’s degree. Parker is an amazing example of educational success for a military Veteran. Parker had earned his bachelor's degree using tuition assistance while on active-duty and knew what it took be successful in academia. In Parker, Cass found someone who could take academic concepts about mentorship and transform them into pragmatic technical solutions.

Cass and Parker aligned on a desire to improve lagging higher education graduation rates among Veterans. This mutual passion led to an idea that would became Uvize. Today, Uvize is a software platform that delivers mentorship, online academic orientation and preparation to military Veterans attending colleges and universities.

The idea for Uvize matured into a true startup in 2012 when Cass and Parker attended the first Patriot Boot Camp in Washington, D.C. The 3-day Patriot Boot Camp program helped the pair hone their startup vision and solidify their co-founder relationship.

After Patriot Boot Camp, Cass and Parker were accepted into the Techstars Rising Stars program - a year long mentorship pairing that extends technology startup opportunities to demographic groups that are underrepresented in the technology startup community (Veterans being the underrepresented population in this case). During their time in Rising Stars, Cass and Parker further refined and developed their idea for Uvize.

In 2013, Uvize applied to, participated in and graduated from the 2013 TechStars-Kaplan startup accelerator program in New York City. Techstars is an incredibly competitive technology accelerator that annually only accepts 1% of applicants to participate. By the numbers, the selection rates for participation in Techstars are more competitive than the admissions processes at some of the most revered U.S. universities. The Techstars accelerator experience gave Uvize seed capital and 13 weeks of intensive business mentorship. The Uvize team stood out among the thousands of tech startups that applied to Techstars in 2013, and joined an exclusive group of companies that can call themselves Techstars graduates.

By being accepted to Techstars, Cass and Parker achieved a sort of elite status in the technology startup community, and ultimately dispelled several false notions about the nature of technology entrepreneurship - the same notions that may be keeping other military Veterans from jumping into technology entrepreneurship.

Popular culture often portrays technology company founders as young university students who wear flip flops and come from non-traditional professional channels. These stereotypes can make many military Veterans feel too old or too institutionalized to even attempt a technology startup.

Military Veterans who are interested in launching their own technology startups can look to Dave Cass and the Uvize team for inspiration and a general roadmap for success! Today the Uvize platform has 29,000 online participants and is realizing Cass’s dream of helping Veterans be successful in higher education. The future for Uvize looks bright as they expand their mentorship platform to support entrepreneurship accelerators and corporate organizations.

The triumph of Uvize is a testament to how hard work, resolve and execution of a plan can bring success in business. Uvize stands as a shining example of Veterans leveraging their military training and personal perseverance to build technology companies of scale and impact.

This is the first profile in a three-part series to highlight successful Veteran-led technology companies. This series is a partnership between RallyPoint and Patriot Boot Camp.

Comment below or start the conversation here and connect within the military community.