Transitioning from a military to a civilian career doesn’t always go as planned. Sometimes military experience can align directly with civilian jobs. Service members, however, typically must find ways to translate their skills into something that makes sense for a civilian job.
Veteran Steve Sampaio eventually ended up in a dream job in the engineering department of Praxair. But his journey from Marine to regional manager was roundabout and unexpected. We sat down with Steve to learn more about his career path.
You were in the Marine Corps for five years. Tell us a little about your experience as a Marine.
I had considered going to college for wrestling, but I got tired of wrestling, so I joined the military instead. When I first joined, I was an Avionics Comm/Nav Technician, MOS 6315. I realized I missed wrestling, so I signed up for a Marine Corps wrestling competition and won. Then I was asked to join the all-Marine team. I spent a good year wrestling with all-Americans and Olympians in Quantico Virginia and also trained at the Olympic training center in Colorado. It was a lot of fun and I got to visit a bunch of different colleges around the country.
Then I decided I better learn something, so I went back to my unit in Arizona and learned avionics. I got promoted to work center supervisor. We were in charge of maintaining 16 aircraft. There was a lot of leadership and management experience there. I spent three years there and then was deployed to the Western Pacific. I got to see some cool places – and some not-so-cool places, too.
Did your military experience help prepare you for your career with Praxair?
Absolutely. The military, in general, is about planning, adapting and executing. You get a lot of experience in a short amount of time, whether you like it or not. There are a lot of military skills like prioritizing and creating a sense of urgency and dealing with high-stress situations. Military veterans tend to be more familiar with stress and working with diverse people from all different parts of the world. If you’re not a natural-born leader, the military will make you one, with all the training and problem-solving skills.
When you got out of the Marines, what type of job were you looking for? How did you find Praxair?
I had been on the fence about reenlisting. I finally decided to get out because I wanted to have more of a family environment. There was a huge draw for the dot-com and Silicon Valley jobs. Many of my avionics friends went to California and made great money. Then in 2000, the bubble burst. I had my eye on moving to northern California, but I was walking around trying to hand out my resume when everyone else was getting laid off.
“If you’re not a natural-born leader, the military will make you one, with all the training and problem-solving skills.”
The military had set up a lot of job fairs. I also used websites like Monster.com and Career Builder. At first, Praxair didn’t appeal to me. I really wanted to wear slacks and a collared shirt to work! But they called me back for a second interview, and after that I got hired. I didn’t realize the stability of the industrial gas field and the incentives of it.
Did you use military benefits to pursue your bachelor’s degree? How did the degree help you reach your current position?
Praxair had a program to help fund college, and they are dedicated to hiring military. I used the GI Bill and supplemented it with the assistance from Praxair. I knocked out the general ed at a community college, then finished at St. Mary’s with a BA in management. I wanted a more technical engineering degree. But when you work full-time, there aren’t many engineering degree programs that will work. St. Mary’s offered more weekend and evening courses, and I figured I could use business management anywhere.
I was always drawn to the engineering department and would volunteer to help them, so I worked my way into the department with my business management degree. I started as an entry-level engineer in 2006, worked my way up, became a team leader, and then three years ago got promoted to regional manager. That’s when my business management degree really started to pay off. Now I deal with all the business strategies, customers and management of people with different personalities and from different cultures. The first five years were tough, going to school full-time and working full-time, but it was worth it.
What are the military skills that help a veteran candidate stand out in the job search process?
I think I struggled when I got out to translate the technical details of my avionics training into a resume. Looking back, I probably would have dumbed down the resume a bit. Military personnel are hands-on problem-solvers; they have a good work ethic and discipline. They are skilled at problem-solving and leading by example. Veterans should remember that stress management, adaptability, and discipline are skills you can bring anywhere.
What advice do you have for veterans considering a degree in business management?
I think it’s a great degree to have because it is so universally helpful. You can take it to any field or industry, or even start your own business. Even if you start out in a technical field, as you start to work your way up, it will help you make organizational decisions or deal with finances and business strategy. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do after the military, but I knew this degree would be a good start.