TULSA, Okla. -- For many Soldiers, the U.S. Army offers not only the chance to serve their country, but also gain valuable leadership opportunities and skills that apply to life outside the military.
For this U.S. Army Career Corner,, we talk with Paul Maness, who currently serves as an executive officer in the U.S. Army Reserve and works as a plant manager at a packaging technology company in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Maness shares his experiences and insights on how the Army informs his approach to leadership, both in the Reserve and in his career field.
Q: What is your background with the Army, and what inspired you to join?
A: I wanted to be in the Army for as long as I can remember. My father was in the Army Reserve and was my inspiration to serve. I enlisted at 17 and went to basic training right out of high school. It was a perfect fit from the beginning. I had the honor of serving as an enlisted member for about 7 years. I commissioned through ROTC at Oklahoma State University and entered active service as an engineer officer. My first duty station was Joint Base Lewis-McChord as a Stryker platoon leader, where I graduated from Ranger School and deployed to Iraq with 3-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team. I then went to Engineer Captains Career Course and then to Fort Bragg where I commanded two separate companies in the 307th Engineer Battalion. Next, I moved to the National Training Center to be an Observer Controller/Trainer with OPS Group. From there I made the decision to separate from active service to spend more time with my aging family and tackle new challenges in the civilian world.
I currently serve as the executive officer for 1-95th Engineer Battalion 1st Brigade (Engineer). The battalion is responsible for reclassing Soldiers into engineers. My responsibilities are focused on creating a ready and resilient battalion of instructors that are prepared to train the Soldiers of our forces in combat and general engineering tasks. Additionally, I manage the staff and ensure the commanders priorities are being met.
Q: Where do you currently work and what are your responsibilities?
A: I work at Pregis Intellipack. I serve as the plant manager for the Tulsa,Oklahoma-based facility. As the plant manager for a mid-sized manufacturing facility it is my job to ensure the employees are focused on the priorities of the company and properly outfitted, trained and equipped to do the work. Additionally, I focus on forecasting needs and demands for the organization and working with the multiple office primaries to ensure we have the parts we need to build machines and the transportation required to move our finished product. I also work with various staffing companies to ensure I have employees needed to build those machines. My job is so much like being a company commander it is hard to believe.
Q: You said your first two jobs out of the Army were not a good fit and that you were only "chasing a paycheck." What did you learn from this experience about what to look for in a job?
A: When I left the Army I had an idea of what my career was going to look like. I thought I would have a powerful job and wear a suit and tie to work every day. I had this thought that I could do anything I put my mind to and no position was too complicated. After all, as an officer in the Army, I was dropped into positions that I wasn't trained for and always managed to succeed. I was applying for jobs as Chief Operations Officer or Director of Operations. I had this idea that I had managed companies in the Army, so I could manage companies in the corporate world. I wasn't getting responses from the countless resumes I submitted, no one acknowledged my skills and capabilities, and I couldn't understand why.
As I moved closer to my separation date I started to panic. I was about to be unemployed for the first time in my adult life and had no idea what I was going to do. I got lucky and finally found a job through a recruiting firm. I took the first offer I got and moved into the civilian world. I hated that job. The culture was not in line with my values, the focus of the organization was in maintaining the status quo and my leadership experience was not valued. To be fair to that company, I approached the job in an aggressive manner. I expected my employees to operate like highly disciplined Soldiers and do what I said quickly and effectively. I found that people were intimidated by me and were closed off to me. I learned a lot about who I was, how I was perceived, and how to better manage civilians. I was there for just over a year.
I moved on to a place that promised an opportunity to help "right the ship." I was to be the change agent of a broken system. I made that move and even took a reduction in pay to do it. In hindsight, the writing was on the wall. This organization liked the idea of change, but wasn't willing or able to make it happen. They expected 70-hour work weeks and I had a brand new son at home. I lasted for 4 months and didn't leave on good terms. I was officially unemployed. At that point I was looking for ways to get back to active duty and had a packet submitted to work full time with the Army Reserve. I considered myself a failure in the civilian world and was trying to get back to what I knew.
That's when my social network saved me. A recruiter called me out of the blue one day and asked if I would interview for a position she was representing. She found me on LinkedIn and said my service in the Army was exactly what Pregis was looking for. As I moved through the interview process I found myself getting excited to work with like-minded people who were laser focused on the objective of growing the business. They honored my service and had confidence in my ability to make a difference and genuinely enjoyed working together as a team. I took the job and have found that it's the most rewarding job I have had since I was a company commander. I know it is easy to say when you are in my position, but I wish I would have had a better exit plan and a nest egg saved up to pay the bills while I searched for the right job when I exited the Army.
Q: Just as employers ask a potential applicant many questions during the interview process to determine if the applicant is a good fit, job seekers should also ask questions about the company to determine if an organization is a good fit for them. What sort of questions would you recommend that job seeker -- especially transitioning Soldiers -- ask of a potential employer?
A: The first step is to take an inventory of what you liked about in the military. Was it the structure, the work, the people, the leadership aspects, etc.?
Also ask why you are leaving. For me, I wanted a family life and some stability in my life. Then use that information to ask questions about the job you are applying for. Ask about the work-life balance. Do employees work past 5 every day? Is weekend work expected? Are there a lot of emergencies that require "all hands on deck" reactions?
Ask potential employers to explain their culture. If they can't get excited about their job and the people that work there, then why would you?
What opportunities are there for training? If you are career focused and want to move up in your job, you will need to be trained. Many employers have great training programs and some do not. Imagine if the military didn't focus on Professional Military Education or career progression. We would all still be junior ranking with no option for career advancement. Remember, if you manage to get the job and you are not the right fit, you and your employer are not going to be happy. You are interviewing them as much as they are you.
Q: You write about applying military processes and thinking to civilian leadership. What are some examples of how Army veterans can bring their military experiences to bear on civilian leadership roles?
A: Lots of civilians lack the skills to think critically and with a set process. Things like Troop Leading Procedures, MDMP, and Pre-Combat checks pay off big time in the civilian sector. Additionally, a process-driven approach to projects can pay off in a big way. Tracking progress and displaying data just like in a battalion Tactical Operations Center or company training room is also similar in the civilian world.
Q: What other advice do you have for Soldiers or veterans in their civilian career search?
A: Be humble. As veterans we hear a lot about how marketable we are and what an asset we are to an organization. I believe this to be true, but you have to remember that you are leaving one career for a new one. You wouldn't come out of basic training and be given a squad leader position, and a second lieutenant doesn't command companies. That's because they still have a lot to learn. Don't expect to start a new career and be the subject matter expert. You have to start at a reasonable level and work your way to the position you want. That will require building a reputation, learning your new trade, and proving that you deserve the position. If you use the skills you picked up in the military, you will make it there quickly.
Reach out to veterans who have made the transition. They are full of stories and advice and can help you navigate the challenges. Finally, keep your social media updated and professional. I have gotten more opportunities from recruiters who found me through LinkedIn that from submitting resumes. I have never gotten a callback from a resume submitted. I have been contacted through LinkedIn more than I can count.