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Career Advice

5 Tips for Veterans from Veterans: Finding Success in a Civilian Career

November 29, 2021
Cell TherapyGlobal Product Development and SupplyInclusion & DiversityVeterans / Military
Careers Home  /  Career Stories  /  5 Tips for Veterans from Veterans: Finding Success in a Civilian Career

This month we thank our military veterans for their leadership and service. Returning to a civilian workplace after military service is a great opportunity to use your military experience and leadership skills to gain new career opportunities and a newfound purpose, as these two veterans discovered when they joined Bristol Myers Squibb in the fight against cancer.

Rhonda Greer, Senior Manager, Cell Therapy Manufacturing, Global Product Development & Supply (GPS)
Rhonda Greer, Senior Manager, Cell Therapy Manufacturing, Global Product Development & Supply (GPS)

Rhonda Greer, a Senior Manager, Cell Therapy Manufacturing, Global Product Development & Supply (GPS) on the Devens, MA campus remembers when a BMS recruiter first reached out to her on LinkedIn. By then, she had served in the Navy from 2003 to 2007, gone on to earn her MPA, MSIE and MBA degrees, and worked in the civilian sector. But she was still searching for a way to carry on the military values of serving the greater good. “I’ve always wanted to do something meaningful,” she says. At Bristol Myers Squibb, she was able to bring her passion for service, and her experience as a kidney cancer survivor, to helping patients through a career in cell therapy.

“In cell therapy, a patient’s own T cells are collected, then "reprogrammed" before they are reintroduced in the patient's body. It’s a personalized process,” Rhonda says. “That's as close as I can get to a patient without being a nurse or a doctor. So that's meaningful to me. I’m making a difference for one individual at a time.”

That’s a feeling that Jose Munoz, Manager, CAR-T Warehouse Operations, GPS knows well. As an immigrant from Ecuador, Jose came to the United States at the age of 8 years old. As soon as he got his green card, he enlisted in the US Marine Corps. After serving in the military, Jose earned a degree in Supply Chain Management at Rutgers University. At the BMS facility in Summit, New Jersey, he supervises the production of kits used to modify a patient’s T cells as part of a sophisticated manufacturing process to help the T cells recognize and fight cancer cells. Jose has a personal connection to his work. His parents and grandparents have all been diagnosed with cancer. While his mom survived, he lost a grandmother to cancer earlier this year.

Here’s what our two veteran colleagues had to say about making the transition into a new civilian career.

1. Make connections happen.

Find a mentor to support and advise you on your journey. “It’s important to identify other military veterans in the field that you want to be in,” says Jose. “Do what I did. Go on LinkedIn, search for veterans at BMS; a lot of us are going to pop up. Connect with us.” That’s how he met his associate director at BMS, who remains a mentor to this day. Also, reach out to members of the BMS Veterans Community Network (VCN) People and Business Resource Group (PBRG) for guidance on how to approach your career transition.

Rhonda agrees. “Find a good mentor who is where you want to be—and learn from them.”

2. Remember, you’ve got skills—and they’re transferable.

“Sometimes when we get out, we feel like we're behind,” observes Rhonda. “That we have to play catch-up to the rest of the world, but that's not the case. Your skills do translate.”

As an applicant, you must be ready to communicate how your military experience and skills can add value to the role you’re interested in.

“Your leadership, your experience in the military, your ability to problem solve, will allow you to quickly climb, whether your ambition is upward or lateral mobility,” adds Jose. “Your skillset will allow for a faster track.”

Jose counts on a simple strategy he used when faced with a challenge in the military: Assess, come up with a plan, and execute. “That’s what I’ve done my whole life.”

3. Adjust expectations and shift your mindset.

Jose Munoz, Manager, CAR-T Warehouse Operations, Global Product Development & Supply
Jose Munoz, Manager, CAR-T Warehouse Operations, Global Product Development & Supply

In the Marines, Jose was a Sergeant in charge of a platoon. “Coming out of the military, the mindset you have is you’ve already led people, and you’ve done many things that a lot of civilians potentially have not done and will not get to do.”

“Before joining the private sector, I was on the ground, leading people, solving problems. Not behind a computer screen.” He had to strengthen his hard skills and become proficient in Excel and PowerPoint.

For Rhonda, her military influence means “having honor in everything that you do, being committed to something and seeing it through, and having the courage to speak up.”

“We have a saying, no one's left behind. That's how my team at BMS is,” she says. “Every morning when we meet as a leadership team, we ask ‘How is your day going? How do you feel today?’ If there's something that's bothering one of us, someone is there to say, ‘Hey, let me take that for you.’ That's something that I hold dear to my heart because I know I can trust this person with my career as I would trust someone with my life when I was in the military.”

4. Change up your communication style.

Civilian speak can be a challenge for veterans, who are used to giving and receiving commands. “I was trained to follow orders,” says Rhonda. “You don’t ask questions; you just do what you’re told.” The idea that people might have questions or opinions of their own was new to her. She learned to soften her leadership approach so that she and her team could benefit from the collaborative ideation that BMS facilitates.

5. Use all the resources available to you.

Take advantage of any special outreach programs, career fairs and info sessions offered. At BMS, we offer a class for former military personnel to help bridge skills with the career of your choice that Rhonda highly recommends. And do your research. Decide if going back to school would be beneficial in your career. At BMS we offer tuition reimbursement to eligible employees who, through their own initiative and desire for development, participate in accredited educational programs that their manager deems will be mutually beneficial to BMS and the employee, covering up to 100% of the qualifying tuition costs. People and Business Resource Groups (PBRGs) like the Veterans Community Network (VCN) offer support to veterans and their families, where people can share life and career advice, and benefit from each other’s experiences.

“I would’ve never in a million years thought I’d be working at BMS in CAR-T,” remarks Jose. “Yes, I’m not in the field; I’m not wearing my cammies, but I am in a new field, and I am wearing some sort of uniform to carry out these unknowns and lead. So far, it’s been very, very fulfilling.”

If you're interested in a career where your experience in the military will be valued and you can make a difference in the lives of patients every day, there's a place for you at BMS. You can advance your career and learn new skills while doing interesting and meaningful work. If this is something you'd like to be a part of, search for active roles with our Global Product Development & Supply (GPS) or our other functions at careers.bms.com.