Veterans and those who love them make no shortage of sacrifices on behalf of this country. But one sacrifice that’s perhaps not as readily acknowledged is the obstacles both veterans and military spouses can face when building out their careers in the civilian realm. This Veteran’s Day, Fairygodboss and GettingHired asked folks in the veteran and military family community to share the ways this identity has aided and at times impeded them professionally, as well as their No. 1 pieces of advice to fellow military community jobseekers.
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As anyone with military experience will tell you, keeping a cool head in the face of intimidating situations is all part of the job. But for Mary Lynn Conroy, a US Air Force Academy grad and US Army Reservist with eight years of active duty service under her belt, she was surprised to find herself intimidated by a seemingly more pedestrian challenge: finding a job in the civilian realm.
“I found it difficult to gain civilian employment immediately,” Conroy said. “While I had accomplished a lot in the Army, my contributions to the civilian workforce were limited… I felt that my unique background would be a huge advantage for me, yet as I was receiving rejection after rejection, it felt more like a hindrance.”
A common challenge for veterans, she explained, is being overlooked for management positions due to having “little to no civilian management experience;” yet at the same time, these companies will pass over vets for entry-level positions, too, on the grounds that they have “too much life experience.” Conroy added that it can take a “unique company” to recognize the equally unique value and skill sets that veterans bring to the table — and that’s exactly what she came to find at Charles Schwab.
Today a Financial Consultant Partner at the company, Conroy recently shared with Fairygodboss why her military background gives her a specific advantage in the world of finance, as well as her No. 1 piece of advice to other veterans looking for civilian employment.
Who: Mary Lynn Conroy
What: Financial Consultant Partner, Charles Schwab & Co.
Where: Honolulu, HI
How long have you been in your current role, and what were you doing previously?
I have been with Charles Schwab for one year and a half. Before Schwab, I participated in a number of different veteran initiatives, including the Goldman Sachs Veterans Integration Program, and I also attended the University of South Florida for my MBA, earning a scholarship from the Pat Tillman Foundation. Prior to that, I graduated from the US Air Force Academy in 2005 and spent eight years active duty as an Army Intelligence Officer before transitioning to the Army Reserves, where I currently serve.
What factors were most important to you in transitioning from a military to civilian job? Are there any challenges associated with that transition that people may not be aware of?
The most important factor in transitioning from active duty military to a civilian job was my family. My husband and I were both in the Army and we found it extremely difficult to be stationed together. I loved my time in the Army and I felt that I could best balance the two worlds by leaving the active service, transitioning to the Army Reserves on a monthly drilling cycle, and finding civilian employment.
The biggest challenge to this was the fact that I found it difficult to gain civilian employment immediately, and while we knew this would be a possibility, it didn’t ease the shock of going from two paychecks to one. The other challenge was recognizing that while I had accomplished a lot in the Army, my contributions to the civilian workforce were limited. Breaking into certain industries is very difficult if you do not come from that background and you will often be overlooked for management positions (little to no civilian management experience) and passed over on entry level positions (too much life experience). It takes a unique company to recognize the values that a veteran can bring to the table and it may be difficult to find the company that fits you.
What did your company do to help ease the transition, and how have you felt supported working here?
Charles Schwab has a large Military Veterans network that supports veterans and military spouses. The biggest thing that they did to help with my transition was to help me map out a road to success. I was coming into the financial industry with no securities licenses and no experience in the stock market. My manager sat down with me and created a roadmap for me to earn my licenses, gain the experience, and grow my career. Having a well-connected veterans’ organization as well as understanding and supportive managers were the best types of support to receive as a new employee in a big financial firm.
Do you believe your military background has provided you with any unique perspectives or talents that aid your career today?
My military background has absolutely made me the person I am today and there is no doubt that I would not be successful in my civilian career had I not started in the military. The military has a unique way of breaking down every single person into identical soldiers, and then slowly building each soldier into a strong leader. This has made me unafraid to take on additional tasks or to start a new project. Each day in the military was different; one day you could find yourself in the middle of a war zone, and another day you were filling out paperwork in the office. You found ways to cope with change and even thrive on the excitement of new events. Being in an industry that is centered on the financial markets can be tumultuous at times, and having to live with change on a day-to-day basis in the military has definitely made it easier for me to not only tolerate the ever-changing markets, but to explain it to our clients and help calm their fears.
What’s the first (and/or last) thing you do at work every day?
The first thing I do at work is sit down with my cup of coffee and create my “To Do” list. I review business that still needs my attention from the previous day as well as upcoming issues that I need to tackle. Before leaving, I review the same list to ensure nothing was left unfinished or at least update it with a status for the next day. This helps to organize my thoughts and ensure that all of my clients are taken care of.
What about outside of work — how do you most enjoy spending your time?
I enjoy going to the beach with my family. I am also training for the Honolulu Marathon in December!
What’s the one career move you’ve made that you’re most proud of?
Not being afraid to try, and try, and try again. I had zero experience in the financial industry when I started applying to companies. I felt that my unique background would be a huge advantage for me, yet as I was receiving rejection after rejection, it felt more like a hindrance. I had to remind myself that my background was unique and something to be proud of and that, sooner or later, I would find the company that would see my background as a benefit to them. It was very humbling to hear the word “no” many times, but what I am proud of is the fact that I kept at it.
When I found Charles Schwab, it felt like the stars aligned. They understood and appreciated my background in the military and were more than willing to bring me on and train me. The timing was right and it ended up being a great fit for my family as well. Sometimes it just takes time and you may have to step out of your comfort zone, but it will pay off in the end!
What’s your #1 piece of advice for women, and especially other women veterans, who are looking for jobs right now?
It is OK to take the time to figure out what you want to do. Once you leave the military, it is very normal to feel a little lost and out of sorts. You may have your heart set on one career path and then find out that it just isn’t a good fit for you. Don’t be afraid to go in another direction. Life is way too short to be toiling away at a job you hate just because you liked the idea of what you thought the job would be.
Also, don’t be afraid to reach out to other women to ask for advice. Girls compete with each other, but women empower one another.
Content sponsored by Charles Schwab & Co. Charles Schwab & Co. is not affiliated with Fairygodboss. (1118-8PZT)