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. That's why Fairygodboss 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.
Who: Nina Semczuk
What: Head of SEO Content, Fairygodboss
Where: New York, NY
How long have you been in your current role, and what were you doing previously?
Six months; before Fairygodboss, I was a writer and editor at SmartAsset, a personal finance startup. Before that, I worked at The Muse, another career website. That was my first job after serving as an intelligence officer in the Army for about five years.
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?
I wanted to work somewhere less encumbered by red tape. That meant unlike many of my peers, who were leaving the Army for government jobs or roles in large corporations, I sought positions in startups.
The toughest part of the transition, for me, was that my military experience did not translate well to the career I wanted (writing). I had to take an internship (and a huge pay cut) at 26 after having had responsibility for 100 soldiers and millions of dollars of equipment. I knew I needed industry experience for writing, and was grateful for the job, but I felt a little sad that the management and organizational knowledge and skills I had learned went to waste because I wasn’t in the position to implement those types of things. The challenge for me is my perpetual struggle to have patience. It takes time to do a career 180!
What did your company do to help ease the transition, and how have you felt supported working there?
My first company after the Army was a warm, supportive, yet high-paced startup. It was the perfect place for me to land, because the content we wrote and produced was career advice and productivity tips. By working with the content each day, I learned how to be a better interviewee and job search more effectively, and how to use LinkedIn and other networking tools to my advantage. I learned so much about the civilian job market at that job — it was super useful!
Do you believe your military background has provided you with any unique perspectives or talents that aid your career today?
Absolutely. At the very least, it helped me chill out and realize at the end of the day, all that matters is people. A grumpy, old retired contractor reminded me that one day when I was working with my platoon early in my career. He saw my frustration and impatience mounting, and reminded me, “at the end of the day, if no one’s bleeding, you’re doing just fine.” When you’re given so much responsibility and you’re under so much pressure so young, everything else you do after seems a lot less scary. The Army gave me confidence, and reminded me that complex problems can be broken down into small, actionable steps. Also, the military is similar to a large corporation, so I learned the importance of information distribution, standard operating procedures, and continued refinement of processes.
And for my current job, SEO, intelligence was actually the perfect background because it’s a lot of data mining and tracking, as well as predictions and targeting.
What’s the first (and/or last) thing you do at work every day?
I usually check for messages on Slack or email, pull up Google Analytics to see how our site is performing, and settle into my desk area. Before ending my workday, I look to see how many boxes on my to-do list I checked off, and then take a look at the tasks that’ll have to get done tomorrow.
What about outside of work — how do you most enjoy spending your time?
Living in New York is wonderful, because you can get to the mountains and nature in about two hours or less. I try to get out and hike or bike on the weekends, and I also enjoy reading and cooking. During the week, I grab dinner and drinks with friends, see comedy, and teach yoga as well as online writing classes.
What’s the one career move you’ve made that you’re most proud of?
Leaving the Army to move to New York to be a writer and to work in tech was pretty challenging, but I’m grateful I made the move every single day.
What’s your #1 piece of advice for women, and especially other women veterans, who are looking for jobs right now?
Don’t be afraid to take a step backward to go in the direction you really want. That “backwards” step might mean going back to school, or, taking an internship or fellowship, or taking a bootcamp course. You don’t have to jump into a high-level civilian career in an industry you’re lukewarm about unless you absolutely need the money.
I was tempted to take a mid-level management job at a bank or corporation, following the path of many of my Army buddies, because it’s an easier transition and the money is good. I knew though, that I’d probably get frustrated in that type of environment after awhile and then I’d be not only older, but even more used to the paycheck and it’d be harder to pivot to what I ultimately wanted to do.