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Every transitioning military member needs a Joe

I remember the day. I was sitting in a very small interview room at a regional headquarters of MetLife. I had applied for a job as a project manager through a newspaper ad (I'm dating myself here), and here I was waiting for my first screening interview. I didn't have any inside connections. I thought it was a longshot, but I applied for the job anyway. I used to jump out of airplanes for a living in the Army, but just earned an MBA; I thought maybe I had a shot because of the MBA. So there I sat, nervously waiting for what was to come in the interview. I laughed at myself inside. I thought there's no way they'll hire me. I'm going to learn from this.

In walks Joe. He shattered my image of who was going to walk through the door. The first thing that I noticed was the very long, grey beard that he's known for. He didn't fit the image of the seasoned insurance person I expected. This was at a time when our Special Ops community hadn't yet made beards cool for the masses. He didn't fit the clean-cut insurance guy stereotype at all.

We had a nice conversation. Joe was very polite and gentle with his questioning. He seemed to listen really well. He explained to me that there were many applicants for the position. I took that as a gentle way to set my expectations that I probably wasn't going to be a good fit, given that the military adventures that I tried to tone down and correlate to the job requirements wouldn't compare to many of the other applicants who would have much more relevant experience for the job. Getting some appreciation for experience in an Army combat unit by people that work for an insurance company seemed like a stretch for me. I went for it anyway.

Spoiler-alert: I got the job. I received a call-back a few days later. I had another interview with Joe's boss, Brendan. Brendan actually took ROTC classes in college, although he never served. He told me during his interview that ever since then, he's appreciated the leadership traits that the military is known for. He went on to say that the project that this new project manager would lead had failed a few times already and that they were looking to hire an outsider with a fresh approach. He said because of that, my leadership experience in the Army was valuable to him.

Joe became my peer at work. Working alongside Joe was a great experience. He was much older than I was, and never served in the military. It meant even more to me that Joe knew he'd be working with me as my peer when he did the screening interview, and that he appreciated my military experience. We developed a great professional admiration for each other that exists to this day. He is one of the kindest, smartest human beings I've come across in life. Anyone who knows Joe says the same thing. We used to joke that if anyone of us made it big someday, we'd hire Joe, give him an office, and just stencil "Wise Man" on his door.

MetLife was very good to me. I worked there for three and a half years. That job set up a series of opportunities that led to starting my own software company eventually. I just sold it 18 years later. All of it would never have happened if I didn't get the MetLife job. If Joe didn't see something in me.

Here's the point. I can trace back any success I may think I've had in my career since leaving the Army to Joe. As my career has progressed, and my transition away from military service has gotten longer, I've come to realize that veterans need civilian partners professionally as much as they need other veterans.

Every one of us needs a Joe. Have you found yours? Are you even looking?

John Panaccione

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