By Dan Kane
The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)
Four years ago, U.S. Army Capt. Tawanna Jamison made a snap decision that likely saved a young soldier’s life. They were stationed in Iraq at a base taking rocket fire. Shards of blown up rockets rained down on the military base.
Jamison instinctively grabbed the soldier and yanked him into a bunker before either of them could get hit.
Now, as she expects to retire in the next six months after 23 years in the military, she asked recruiting experts at a unique workshop for female soldiers whether that act of valor would have any value to an employer in the civilian world.
“I saved someone’s life in Iraq and they don’t care,” she said.
That was among the many questions and concerns voiced at a workshop at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business on Saturday.
Sponsored by two Duke service organizations, the readily apparent goal was to help women who learn how to use their skills, experiences and ambitions to find meaningful work beyond a military that is downsizing.
But a less obvious goal was to expose future business leaders at Duke and business recruiters to a highly motivated segment of the workforce. Duke MBA students helped organize the workshop and served as mock interviewers for the 14 women who took part.
“We’ve stumbled on a way to help civilians get involved,” said Kevin Brilliant, a co-founder of the Fuqua Initiative for Veteran Employment, also known as F.I.V.E. Star Transitions. “When you are seeking to help veterans transition to the private sector, that’s exactly what you need.”
Brilliant and another Duke MBA student, U.S. Army Capt. Herman Bulls, began bringing military personnel and job recruiters together last year. After three workshops for male and female veterans, they decided one should be held just for women, who face issues in the job market that men aren’t as likely to encounter. Duke’s Association of Women in Business chapter helped make the women-only session possible.
Job experts at the workshop said women are too self-limiting in their job seeking. They tend to think they shouldn’t apply if they don’t meet all of the qualifications listed in a job advertisement, while men will go for that position even if they meet half the qualifications. It’s called the “confidence gap.”
Ginger Miller, president of Women Veterans Interactive, a nonprofit that provides job-seeking assistance and other services, said one female veteran succeeded in the job market after Miller’s organization showed her she wasn’t making eye contact with prospective employers.
Meanwhile, women in the military work in a male-dominated environment that can affect their perspectives on the civilian job market. Women make up only 15 percent of all military personnel.
Emma Frowine, a U.S. Marine captain and combat engineering officer assigned to Camp Lejeune, spoke to that when she said, “I feel like in the last 10 years I’ve lost some of myself.”
She also said she loves the sense of purpose in her military work and the tight-knit military community, and she worried whether she could find both in the civilian world.
Military personnel face unique prejudices in the civilian world. Some employers expect them to be overly aggressive. Joe LeBoeuf, a Fuqua professor and retired U.S. Army colonel, told the women part of making a successful transition is to let go of those parts of their identities that worked in the military but could make it hard in the job market.
Recruiters from BASF and General Electric told the women their military service is highly valued in their businesses and many others. They and other business experts from Duke and the military told the women to first think about what kind of work would interest them and why.
They told the women to find ways to explain their skills and experience that avoided military jargon and stressed their importance to civilian employers. They told Jamison that her actions to protect a fellow soldier showed quick decision-making and calm under pressure.
It’s critical for military personnel to be team oriented, but in the marketplace job-seekers have to emphasize their individual skills.
“You have to switch from ‘we’ to ‘I,’ ” LeBoeuf said.