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Chris Pieczonka - Military to Civilian Transition

Sale and Marketing Development Program, Siemens Energy
US Navy, Surface Warfare Officer, Lieutenant
United States Naval Academy, 2005

I was commissioned into the US Navy in May 2005 as a Surface Warfare Officer. My first command was the USS LAKE CHAMPLAIN. During my two-and-a-half years onboard, I had duties as the Cruise Missile Officer, Force Protection Officer, and Assistant to the Air Defense Officer. While onboard, I also earned my Engineering Officer of the Watch qualification. This allowed me to accept orders to my next command, Destroyer Squadron 23. While attached to that command, I was the Training Officer for five destroyers. This was an incredible job, because the staff was comprised of senior department heads and NCOs. It was a very flat organization and incredibly informal relative to other Navy commands. Additionally, I had four training officers out of the five ships, who were my year group and responsible for reporting their readiness to me. This proved to be an invaluable education on management and support of a team.

My transition from the Navy started two years prior to my last day in the Navy. In August 2009, I PCS’d to Annapolis, Maryland. As soon as I arrived, I enrolled in the University of Maryland’s Smith School of Business. It was an accelerated part time program. I essentially went to school full-time at night, so that I could graduate before I was out of the Navy.

In order to apply for business school, you need a resume, so I started crafting this back in January 2009 when I was applying to school. Your resume is an iterative process that requires dozens of revisions. I had friends, friends’ parents who worked in the civilian world, department heads, my commanding officer, and even a buddy’s sister who freelances in resume writing review my resume. And while I was in business school, I was constantly polishing and refining my resume to be directed to different industries and job responsibilities.

While in school, I started attending career fairs a year-and-a-half from my separation. At first, some recruiters at various companies were not keen to talk to me, because I was not a potential hire in three months time. But, as I started to explain that I wanted to get an idea of the type of work they did and what they liked and didn’t like about it, they were typically more receptive. This allowed me to ask more in depth questions later on in the job search process and really focus on the companies I felt I would be really interested in.

The only on-base resource I used was the mandatory TAP class. This instruction was too late for me, however, as I took the class after I had already accepted a position with Siemens. I highly recommend any service member enroll in TAP class as soon as they have made the decision to transition out of the military. There are some great starting lessons and recommendations that I figured out on my own. If I would have had TAP class earlier, I might not have spun my wheels as much when I first started my planning.

Prior to getting hired by Siemens, I interviewed with several big-name companies. I tried to contact someone who had done the job or knew a lot about each position I interviewed for. If the HR rep gave me a name of someone I was interviewing with, I searched for them on Facebook, Linkedin, and Google to try and glean any information that would be useful in establishing a rapport with the interviewer. I also tried to find any USNA grads that may have had inside knowledge of the position.

In addition to job-hunting on my own, I also worked with Orion and received an offer for a Siemens Energy Sales and Marketing Development Program (SMDP) position. This was actually the most difficult part of the transition for me. When I was offered the Siemens position, I was waiting to hear back from two other companies, both of which were dragging their feet. It would have been nice to wait and see what they would have been willing to offer, if they decided that they wanted to hire me; but, I needed to pull the trigger and accept an offer. Additionally, Siemens was a rather unknown quantity to me relative to the rest of the companies I interviewed with. I knew what they did, but I still wasn’t too familiar with how they did it.

But during my interview with Siemens, I was impressed that they were more concerned with finding the right person who they could train and work with, rather than the most specifically qualified person. About twenty minutes into the interview, it became more of a dialogue regarding personalities and passions, as opposed to a combative talk where they are grilling me on what I could offer Siemens. This was very different than most of my interviews with other companies, and I liked that.

The Sales and Marketing Development Program started in June 2011 while I was on terminal leave. I was one of three JMOs in the pilot program. Typically, the participants are high-talent civilians with engineering backgrounds coming directly from undergraduate programs or some limited working experience. The program has four three-month long rotations through various divisions of Siemens Energy.

The requirements are that you will spend time in a field sales office, a new unit marketing division, a service marketing division, and another “wild card” rotation. In between the rotations, the group meets back up to brief each other on their rotations, as well as attend group trainings that cover such things as presentation skills, fundamentals of all of the major power generation machines that Siemens produces and services, as well as interaction with executive level managers in Siemens Energy.

The program is based out of Orlando, where I currently live, but participants can be rotated into various offices throughout the country. Some of the bigger offices for Siemens Energy are located in Charlotte, Houston, Jackson, Trenton, and San Ramon. The relocation to Orlando and future relocation is not an issue for me, as I am single without any dependents, so I was extremely geo-flexible. My only desire was that I wanted to be near a major metropolitan area.

When it came time to find housing, I found out that a high school friend was attending law school in Orlando through the magic of Facebook. We decided to room together, and he conducted the housing search down in Orlando and sent photos. We had many discussions on our requirements and settled on a place in a few weeks.

My job with Siemens has me working in the energy industry, specifically the power generation and service industry. My military experience helps me in many different ways. One of the most direct ways was the fact that I earned an EOOW on my first command. Siemens Energy’s competitive advantage in energy industry is its leading edge gas turbine technology. Having some intimate knowledge of how a gas turbine plant works was a huge advantage in the interview process.

But the military experience goes well beyond directly transferrable skills. Conflict resolution, team building, change management, ability to speak confidently and directly to subordinates, superiors, and especially contemporaries; as well as experience in developing and executing plans, are all strengths honed in the military. Until I was out working with civilians, I did not fully understand just how important these traits are.

My military experience came into play during one of my first assignments was while I was working for the Wind Group. The Chief Marketing Officer wanted me to provide projections on the need for renewable power generation, per state, in 2015, based on renewable portfolio standards set by each state. There was very little guidance beyond that. Having worked in the Surface Warfare community, I was extremely comfortable taking on a project that had very little direction as to how to accomplish the final goal.

The arduous and sometimes Spartan lifestyle of deploying during my time in the Navy allowed me to focus on work, while some of my colleagues were distracted by what they considered “unworkable conditions.” This ability to adapt to working conditions and make decisions with imperfect information is what sets veterans apart. In a company full of engineers who like to polish the answer until they believe it’s perfect, this is a very sought after trait.

I just moved back to Orlando to finish the program in my final placement in the Service Fossil group. In my new position, I am going to support the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic sales regions for complex bids to provide service for power plants that are scheduled for maintenance. As a first position, it’s a great place to be. I will have to interface with all of the service business divisions—non-destructive examination, manpower, parts, upgrades, technical field assistance, and operations.

This position will give me a great knowledge base on how Siemens conducts business on the service side, as well as how its internal decision making and business processes and run. Additionally, for any bids for work that require special approval, I will have to brief the executives of the service group. At Siemens, networking is highly valued in order to promote, so having the opportunity to display your work to executives is extremely valuable for career progression.

I have been very fortunate to have been hired into a development program where my first priority is to learn about the company and how it works. The daily highlight is that I am excited to go to work knowing that I am part of an organization that provides one of the fundamental infrastructure needs of the country. Additionally, much like when I was in Navy and had the inside information on military events, I now read the headlines about the energy industry and feel like I have the inside story.

As far as practical considerations, the salary, when adjusted for cost of living, is on par with what I was earning as an O-3 in Maryland. The benefits at Siemens are great, too. They match up to 6% in a 401K, have a stock-purchase program where they give you a share for every three that you purchase (three year vestment), and a significant portion of health care insurance is paid for by the company.

Another consideration is that, at Siemens, there are no ranks on anyone’s collar. When you see someone walking down the hall, they could be an individual contributor or a high level executive. That definitely took some getting used to, along with the habit of calling anyone of positional authority over you ‘sir’. Most people will tire of this very quickly and expect you to address them by their first name.

If I had to advise fellow veterans on how to execute a successful transition, I would say to make finding your next career a part-time job. To find a truly fulfilling and worthwhile second career, you are doing yourself and everything you accomplished in the military a disservice if you don’t focus on your career search. As a veteran, you understand hard work, team-first mentality, competence, and most importantly - integrity. With these attributes, and some specific training, you can do some incredible things for an organization. And you can learn and ramp up at a much faster rate and provide additional value added sooner. If you do things the proper way, with discipline and thoroughness, it may be challenging and difficult, but the reward on the other side is that you get to start another career that you will truly enjoy.
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