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Spartan Insights: Featuring Air Force Veteran, Author, Insurance Professional, James Roby.

This week’s Featured Spartan was James Roby (See his LI profile.) James had agreed to answer questions about his industry, career background, and anything else he can help you learn to further your career. This discussion was open from 06/01 until 06/16/2015.

Spartan Insights is a regularly scheduled Linkedin discussion thread inside of the MSUALUMNI Linkedin group. Each discussion is meant to give you the opportunity to ask questions regarding one Spartan’s experience within a specific company, industry, or occupation. Answers will be given at the convenience and discretion of the featured Spartan and will be answered from the Spartan’s own personal experiences and opinions which are not meant to be representative of his/her company’s official position. Questions regarding a person’s applicant status at the featured Spartan’s place of business will not be answered in this forum. Interested in being a helpful Spartan? Contact me at isbelld@msu.edu.

James RobyThanks Dave! Looking forward to the exchange. Go Green!

Dave IsbellThanks James. I’ll kick it off with the first question. I’m curious about how your experience(s) in the military prepared you for life in the civilian world? Is there anything that you feel you can talk about that may help other Spartans who are thinking about going into the military or leaving it?

James RobyGood question, Dave. I’ll try to be brief – the Air Force and the other services as well, gives the member a lot of opportunities at an earlier point in their career than many civilian counterparts. Air Force commanders are famous for ‘Line of Sight’ Tasking – meaning if they see you, you got the job. The military places a huge amount of trust in service member which in turn becomes confidence. I found myself, in the civilian world being presented with jobs that my peers turned down because it was hard. To me it was just a matter of course. Confidence tends to breed opportunities.
As far as what I would say to my fellow veterans entering the job market…network, network, network. I thought ‘network’ was one of those new buzz words that pops up, but man, if you don’t work your network, you will miss out on a lot of opportunities. Job hunting is FAR more than dropping resumes at monster.com!

Kara – Hi James!  I really appreciated your response to Dave’s question because my younger brother recently entered the Air Force. He’s working on developing those professional skills in Military Finance and I can’t wait to pass your advice along for when he’s done. I sincerely want to thank you for your service.

Could you offer some general advice to people that are beginning to network professionally? I’d consider myself pretty introverted and struggle with that awkwardness that can come with networking! What’s helped you to make conversation easy and fluid? I especially find it difficult because I’m a student and don’t have much experience under my belt yet, so I’m not sure what value I can offer to other people at this early stage in my career. Thank you!

James RobyForward my thanks to your brother for me! The Air Force is an experience he’ll never forget!
As to your question: This is something the always bothered me – ‘You should network.’ ‘Expand your network’. Yeah, that’s great, but how? I think the best way is the same way you eat an elephant – one bite at a time. In other words, start small. If you can get someone you already know to introduce you to someone you’re interested in networking with, that will make things a lot easier. Someone like a professor you trust, or a grad. Having them there to bridge the gap makes things a lot easier.
Barring that, if you know someone you’re interested in connecting with, do a little research. So, for example you’re interested in talking to Joe, a senior chemical engineer at XYZ International – go to their website and see what projects they’re working on, before you connect. That way, once you meet Joe, you’ll at least have one thing to talk about.
Finally, the old stand by – ask, “So, tell me about yourself?” People looove to talk about themselves. You probably should be doing more listening than talking. Networking is just a matter of what you need but what the people you’re talking to needs. If someone, especially someone senior in an organization is really interested in networking (and possibly mentoring), they’ll ask you a lot of question and follow of with, “You know, you really should talk to…” Hope that helps!

Kara SwainThis is great advice, thanks so much! I have a few other questions about your military and writing experience if that’s okay! Could you also offer some advice on how Veterans translate their military service experience into professional skills to put on a resume? What inspired you to begin writing fiction? What challenges have you faced with self-publishing and especially marketing your materials? My boyfriend just recently self-published a novel with the help of a local Michigan author and those seem to be his biggest challenges. Thanks again!

James Roby –  Well, Kara, I hate to wimp out on you and say, it depends…but, it depends. There’s a lot of things that every resume needs but as for what can help a veteran: refer to your annual performance reports – they are usually written in bullet format with SAR statements: That’s Situation, Action, Results – what happened, what did you do, what was the result. Whatever possible, use dollar amounts, or number of supervised, or widgets produced (or destroyed as the case may be) Avoid percentages if possible ( I created a 100% increase in profit could mean you went from $10 to $20) Finally, and most importantly to my brothers in arms, drop the jargon. Take out all those acronyms that even people in a different branches of the service wouldn’t recognize. Replace words like Commander, Sgt, first shirt with director, supervisor or manager. You may even want to change some of your duty titles – Chief, Ground Base Radar may have to be Radar Operations Supervisor. One last thing – speak your would-be employer’s language. View their websites, read through their literature and see what they focus on. If they mention teamwork on every page of their website, you might want to do that too. Know their jargon too – usually SME means Subject Matter Expert but here at Aon it means Small Market Enterprises.

Now, as for the novel thing – I may need some advice from your boyfriend! Marketing is killer. This weekend, however, I went to Printer’s Row, the Midwest’s largest Literary fair. I got a lot of ideas – but in short, marketing your book is just like marketing yourself. You got to get out there, shake hands, kiss babies all that stuff. The more people you talk to, the better.

What inspired me? Lots of stuff. I like reading, old detective movies…stuff like that. I been writing for a while, and my inspiration have changed accordingly. My characters are based on people I know and the location is something close to my heart, my hometown, Detroit.

It be cool to link up with your boyfriend to trade ideas!

Austin – Hey James! Thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions. I will be sure to pass along some of your advice to my brother-in-law, who has been transitioning back to civilian life from the Navy for the past few years. I wanted to also mention that I am actually friends with Kara Swain’s boyfriend (who posted above) and have began to read his published novel – Dusk. Given your interest in old detective movies and/or mysteries, I think you might enjoy reading his novel!

As I prepare for the real world after I finish my last two college classes, I’ve been working hard on networking for full-time work in the business end of the entertainment industry (specifically marketing and promotions). With desires to move to Los Angeles this August, I have been sending emails and trying to connect with employers where I can. I had a question specifically about constructing these emails.

If I am emailing someone I’ve met that represents a company I know I would love to work for one day, what are some of your professional tips on how to word the email, or some talking points that could be a good route to go? I don’t want to compose a message that comes off too aggressive or desperate in any way.

Thanks for your time. I look forward to hearing your response!

James Roby –  Sorry Austin, I had to think about your question as this isn’t my usual MO. I’m not sure who this someone you’ve met, what his position is in the company, etc. I would stay away from any ‘cold calls’ as any industry (ESPECIALLY entertainment industry) is bombarded with ‘I really wanna work for you’ calls. I think your best bet is to first research – see what this company is working on. Second, I’d find some connection between you and this someone you’ve contacted. I can’t really say what that connection is because, again, I don’t know the nature of your relationship. Still, the relationship is key. It can open more doors than some random email. Perhaps you can tell me a little more about your relationship and this person’s role in the industry.

Dave Isbell –  Hi James, can you talk a bit about what you do in your current role within the insurance industry? What’s a typical day look like? Why might a similar career path be one that a person would want to consider?

Dave Isbell –  Austin – Be sure to look at the “Helpful Spartans” tab at www.spartanshelpingspartans.com – there are several L.A./West Coast Spartans (and more coming up) who have said they are willing to try to help if you reach out to them!

James RobyWell Dave, this is the part where I become a cheerleader. But, to be honest, it’s pretty easy when you work at a good company. Aon does a really good job keeping its employees informed on the goings on in the company. Just about once a month, the next one being June 22, a senior executive will have a town hall type meeting, both live and transmitted worldwide. There’s also a strong sense of mentoring and diversity support.
My actual job is very straight forward. I work with clients, usually large companies with national and international presence in maintaining their documentation for operating their vehicle fleets. It doesn’t require a insurance license but, once a position does need a license, Aon will pay for the testing and training in most cases.

Dave IsbellThanks James for sharing your insights. This discussion was originally feature on the MSU Alumni Association’s Linkedin group. Check there every week for a new discussion!

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