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Transitioning Soldier Found Keys to Civilian Job Market at USO/Hire Heroes USA Transition Workshop

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

By Joseph Andrew Lee  

Paul Hendricksen was asked to put a dollar amount on what he thought he was worth.

It was a way for the USO/Hire Heroes USA Career Transition Workshop instructor to find out where the then-Army staff sergeant’s head was at, along with those of his workshop peers.

“The facilitators were surprised to hear me claim that I thought I was worth $65,000 even though I barely had an associate degree,” said Hendricksen, who successfully transitioned out of Fort Carson, Co., last year and now earns even more than he projected as both a railroad conductor with the Colorado-Wyoming Railway and a small business operator.

“Most of the guys who get out are younger soldiers in their early 20s with little to no experience prior to the military,” he said. “If you’re getting out of the military, you need to be aware of exactly what your skills are so that you can sell yourself. There aren’t many of us enlisted guys coming out with degrees, and many will be hard-pressed to earn a wage high enough to maintain the lifestyle they had while they were in the military.”

Hendricksen enlisted as an infantryman, but it eventually became his job to manage other soldiers who were transitioning out around the same time as him. He went through the military’s Transition Assistance Program (TAP) and then chose to attend a USO/Hire Heroes USA Transition Workshop in order to better assist his troops.  

USO/Hire Heroes USA Transition Workshops are a starting point primarily for wounded, ill and injured troops and their spouses and caregivers on the road to integrating into the civilian workplace. The workshop trainers are a combination of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, former corporate human resources specialists and recruiters and career counselors who provide insights to troops moving from the military to the civilian world.

There are scores of USO/Hire Heroes USA Transition Workshops at military installations across the United States each year, including one that is wrapping up today at Camp Pendleton, Calif.. There will also be workshops Aug. 13-14 at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., Aug. 20-21 in Fort Riley, Kan., and Aug. 27-28 in Fort Knox, Ky.

With a 5-to-1 attendee-to-instructor ratio, these informative workshops help troops understand how their military experience translates into the civilian world and teaches them how to present themselves on paper and in person to potential employers. Attendees receive sample resumes of people with similar military occupational specialties to their own to use as templates for building their resumes, and even participate in mock interviews with local employers at the close of the workshop.

When Hendricksen attended the workshop, he brought along a resume that he thought was industry standard. He said the Hire Heroes USA instructor spent a considerable amount of time re-tailoring it for the types of jobs he was seeking. That personal touch made all the difference to Hendricksen, who has stayed in contact with Hire Heroes USA ever since.

“There were little things I would learn each day to add to my tool box,” Hendricksen said, “and it motivated me to find work, which I had to do for the sake of my son.”

After the USO/Hire Heroes USA Transition Workshop helped improve his resume, Hendricksen went out and secured the job he was looking for to support himself and his 6-year-old son. He even had extra terminal leave to spend fly fishing before starting his new career.

“Unfortunately most of these guys who are applying for wage-grade jobs, the transition is anything but seamless,” he said. “Add on top of that the problem of not being able to forecast the tax withholdings and benefits of a job you haven’t even interviewed for, and you can see why a lot of guys end up under water.”
Caption: Paul Hendricksen was able to turn his experience at a USO/Hire Heroes USA Transition Workshop into a job. Photo courtesy of Hire Heroes USA    

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