At University of Maryland University College, we work to provide you with the resources you need—not only to learn the skills that will help you be successful in the workforce but also to help you find employment opportunities where you can apply those skills effectively.

To that end, UMUC President Javier Miyares signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs on Monday, July 10, 2017, to create a collaborative partnership between the VA's Office of Diversity and Inclusion and UMUC's Office of Career Services. The purpose of the MOU is to establish a robust collaborative working partnership to coordinate and implement outreach to UMUC's diverse student population for employment and educational opportunities within the VA.

Nanese Loza, equal employment opportunity specialist, is the ODI's national disability program manager and one of the key members who worked with UMUC to create this MOU. In her role at the VA, Loza conducts recruitment outreach to ensure that individuals—especially those who have underrepresentation within the VA workforce by race, ethnicity, and gender—are aware of VA employment opportunities. Loza is also a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and regularly provides information to fellow veterans about the various hiring options available to them, including the Schedule A hiring authority. She has been with the VA for more than seven years, and prior to that, she was with the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Marine Corps as a civilian.

Loza shared her knowledge and experience with servicemembers about transitioning out of the military and what it's like to work for the VA.

What is the most important thing you wish you had known when you were preparing to transition out of the Marine Corps?
The first and one of the hardest adjustments for me was not being able to wear my uniform and actually having to plan my wardrobe and shop for business attire. Transitioning from a corporal to civilian, I also had to adjust to not saluting officers when I would see them outdoors and to remember that I was not wearing my cover [hat]. These are things I laugh about now, and I am sure every servicemember has these adjustments to make when transitioning.

Transition takes time, and you have to start preparing well before you transition out of the service. For my first civilian job out of the service, I was fortunate that I had started searching early and was able to land a civilian job in my organization, though in a different profession. I went from IT to management analysis [in human resources], which is a transition in itself. I also had to make some adjustments to my behaviors and learn that the management style of the military is much different from that of civilians.

I also had a bit of a learning curve when it came to writing my résumé, especially translating my military skills set into civilian terms and also giving myself credit on paper for my accomplishments. I was fortunate that I had some individuals who helped me hone my résumé after taking a course called Writing Your Federal Résumé. One of these individuals was a career advisor who really helped me learn that using action verbs and taking ownership of my duties and accomplishments as well as outcomes is what gets an employer's attention.

Could you tell us a little about what it's like to work for the VA and why you chose to work for this agency?
As a veteran—and coming from a long line of veterans, some of whom received care from the VA—I wanted to be part of the organization that helped them and those I served with. I wanted to feel like I was part of something that's bigger than myself and that really strives to provide the best benefits and services to those who signed on the dotted line and risked their lives for the protection and betterment of this nation I love.

Working for the VA is great because of that automatic connection to the mission. Because it is such a large organization, it was a little challenging to learn all of the different parts and functions of the organization. Now that I know this information and the talented and caring individuals doing the work, I am even more proud.

There are also opportunities for career growth and promotion, including leadership development programs and specialized career programs that can help you transition from one job to another. Career resources are plentiful. Whether you are an employee at a medical center [health-related] or a regional office [benefits-related], most facilities have their own internal leadership and career development programs. Additionally, we have a system for training that has online and virtual course options in just about anything you can think of.

How can a transitioning servicemember or veteran best highlight his or her military service to stand out from other applicants?
I can't emphasize enough how important it is to take accountability for your actions and accomplishments in your résumé. For example, don't just state that you were part of a team that did this and that. Instead, begin the statement with what you did on the team; for example, you managed staff to the completion of a project. Also, be sure to state what the outcomes were; for example, you saved your organization so many resources through your actions.

Additionally, those who have served in the military have a special skill that is ingrained in them from boot camp and is highly sought after in the private sector: leadership. Ensure that you are writing your résumé to capture leadership abilities and accomplishments throughout. Leadership is a valuable skill that is not as common outside the military, and it helps organizations stay relevant and employees stay committed, which leads to lower turnover and higher job satisfaction.

Can you comment on the VA's hiring needs, particularly in light of the Federal hiring freeze?
Right now and on an ongoing basis, the VA needs nurses, doctors, and other health practitioners as well as claims examiners and IT people. While there is much focus on decreasing the size of the Federal Government, the VA was one of the few agencies to get an increase in budget. Most jobs you can think of outside of the VA also exist within the VA itself. Whether it is accounting, IT, management analysis, human resources, housekeeping aids, or others, the VA has a wide range of occupations available.

What are some of the common mistakes that you see transitioning servicemembers or veterans make when they are competing for Federal jobs?
Many veterans do not use hiring options they may be eligible for that give them elevated opportunities for selection. For example, many disabled veterans are eligible under the Veterans' Recruitment Appointment or the Veterans Employment Opportunities Act and can also apply using the Schedule A hiring authority noncompetitively. This means that you don't even have to apply through USAJobs; you can contact the hiring manager for the job and send your résumé along with your Schedule A letter [from a medical provider, check out a sample Schedule A letter]. If the hiring manager thinks you would be a good fit, he or she can hire you immediately.

Additionally, it's said that the résumé gets you the interview, and the interview gets you the job. Write your résumé as I explained and always tailor it to the job you are applying for to ensure you are meeting the knowledge and skills requirements that the job outlines. No two résumés should be the same because no two jobs are exactly the same.

Interviewing is difficult for many people, and you have to practice to get comfortable with it—you can practice in the mirror or by recording yourself. The most important advice I can give is that you have to be yourself and don't psych yourself out or let fear take over. Address the questions of the interviewers in a conversational way—as if they're already your colleagues—but also touch on the key points of their questions. Always thank them for their time and ask when you can expect to hear something back about the position or when they expect to make a selection.

For our servicemembers who are located overseas and those who will transition from overseas, what advice would you give them to handle the challenges that they may face?
It can be challenging to coordinate future employment when you are outside of the country because you can't just show up and have face-to-face conversations with potential employers. You may also not be aware of what jobs may be available wherever you are headed. I would do as much research as possible about the various organizations that interest you in the area where you are going. Make sure that you visit their websites or USAJobs for Federal jobs and apply for positions that interest you. It can take time to fill a position, especially in the Federal sector, so start looking and apply at least six months before you transition out.

Also, when it comes to interviewing, more organizations are conducting interviews either by phone or virtually through technologies with video capabilities. I was actually interviewed only by telephone before being hired at the VA. When it comes to interviews done virtually, it's important to remember that just because you are not in the room, you should not act robotic. For interviews not conducted in-person, it is extremely important to get to know your interviewers and to break the ice and establish that rapport with them.

What other advice would you give to transitioning servicemembers or veterans about how they can be more successful in the job search?
If you know exactly what you want to do when you transition, that is great and wonderful, but don't limit yourself. In the Federal Government, it is best to read the job descriptions fully to decide whether or not the position is right for you. Additionally, start networking well in advance of your transition. While it may be easier to do when you are in your target location, you can also start connecting with organizations you are interested in beforehand, especially by using social media. It is important that you get out there and get to know people. You never know who may be your biggest proponent.

About the Author

Kristin Schrader is the assistant director of InternPLUS and military career programs at UMUC. She has a background in human resources and has worked in career services at four other universities. Most recently, she was the lead trainer in Europe for the U.S. Department of Labor Employment Workshop teaching transitioning servicemembers about the civilian job search. Schrader is a proud military spouse and is passionate about helping others obtain their professional goals.