College for America Blog

Building Pathways to Careers for Veterans – How This Assistant First Sergeant Made the Transition to Oracle


Posted In:

Feb • 8 • 2019

Building Pathways to Careers for Veterans

Idea in brief:

Supporting careers for veterans means more than helping them get degrees. Career advising and employer partnerships helps veterans like this one thrive in civilian careers.

Rudy Garza joined the Air Force in 2002 with a desire to serve his country and get an education. He earned a bachelor’s’ degree early in his military career, and as he neared the end of his service after 14 years, he wanted to earn an MBA to start preparing for his next career.

But completing a master’s degree while still in the service was going to be a challenge. Garza was working at the time as a command post controller, alternating between day and night shifts. He worried that without more education that he was at risk of being one of the almost half of all veterans who report difficulty finding a job in their field after leaving the service, according to a survey by analytics firm Edelman Intelligence.

Creating flexible options

The Edelman study found that the challenge of finding careers for veterans is two-fold. Partly, it’s not always obvious how to translate the skills learned in military training and experiences into the skills called for in job descriptions in the civilian world.

Second, though the right degree program could help bridge the gap between the veteran’s military knowledge and civilian employer expectations, there aren’t many degree programs that suit people who move as frequently as military service members do.

Garza ultimately chose to enroll in SNHU’s online MBA degree program because of the flexibility it allowed. He took one class at a time while still in the military, and then studied full time after he retired to complete his MBA.

“SNHU’s program made it easy to go to school,” he said. “I was a little nervous about it but everyone treated me so nice, and the professors were on point.”

Creating pathways to careers for veterans

But even 14 years of active duty and a master’s degree didn’t make the transition to civilian life easy.

Unhappy with the first job he landed, at an insurance company call center, Garza decided to seek out a career path that was more aligned with the business practices and processes he had studied as part of his MBA. Garza was making plans to leave the job when he got a call from Kendra Thomas, SNHU’s assistant director of military initiatives, who was then working as a career advisor. She wanted to make sure he knew about SNHU’s military career assistance program.

As one of SNHU’s dedicated military advisors, Thomas worked with Garza to get his résumé together, to practice his interview skills and to translate his military experience into civilian terms.

“If I just came up to anybody and said I was an assistant first sergeant, they wouldn’t understand what that is,” said Garza of his work evaluating and managing personnel.

“Kendra was able to help me translate that and say I have experience working in human resources, I have experience as an instructor, I have experience as a training manager. At one point I did a lot of budgeting, so that translated into financial advisor.”

SNHU’s military career advisors also work to create realistic expectations about salary and training and to create a viable path toward career goals. This might include finding “stepping-stone jobs” to help the service member get workforce learning opportunities or that will provide on-the-job training needed to move later to their dream role.

“It’s a very in-depth and individualized process for each learner who comes through that department,” said Thomas.

Partnerships with military-friendly businesses

While Thomas worked with Garza on the career advisory side, she also introduced Garza to one of SNHU’s military business development partners, Jim Lindsay, who connected Garza with a recruiter at the enterprise software giant Oracle.

Lindsay’s works with employers whose needs align with veterans and military spouses who potentially make strong candidates. (Military spouses also often find it difficult to build careers because they may have irregular work and education histories resulting from frequent moves.)

Lindsay particularly fosters relationships with employers who have a history of working with service members. Some of the fields he typically sees veterans land in include IT, communications and healthcare.

“What’s unique with the organizations I’m working with is that they already have somebody in place who’s military affiliated,” said Lindsay. They already understand the skills that service members are leaving the military with, or the irregular employment history military spouses have on their résumés.

Lindsay also identifies employers that have a network of positions around the country, which is especially important for military families that move frequently or aren’t sure where they’ll land in their final move.

Easing the transition for other veterans

Garza has settled into his position as a deals specialist at Oracle in San Antonio, Texas, using both his military and education experience to create and review contract documents for Oracle’s sales team, partners and customers. It’s a role that requires liaising between different departments and knowledge of accounting and business practices, as well as a certain amount of leadership.

Garza is also working to make the transition easier for others. Along with a business partner, Garza started a branch of Oracle’s Military and Veterans Employment Network (MAVEN) at their San Antonio office. They held their first event recently, putting together care packages for deployed troops.

“Switching from the military lifestyle to civilian can be stressful,” said Garza. “A lot of people don’t make a plan, but with the right support and the right mentorship you can find something out there.”

A flexible degree program like the one that allowed Garza to earn much of his MBA while still in the military, paired with career advice and development services, can be a critical part of that plan.

Contact us to learn more about how SNHU works with veterans and military support organizations to mark pathways to civilian careers for veterans and their families.