PRSA Public Relations, Marketing and Communications Jobs

Military Career Transition Success Story: Melissa Boatwright


Thomson Reuters
Sr. Communications Specialist

When I was separating from active duty, I was as prepared as I could be. I saved a nest egg, was hired as a public affairs individual mobilized augmentee (IMA) in the Air Force Reserves, was finishing my bachelor’s in communications, had already been accepted into West Virginia’s Integrated Marketing Communications Master’s program, and was going to live with my mom while my father was deployed. By all accounts, I was set. Yet, I still couldn’t shake the incessant anxiety that accompanied the impending transition.

I joined the Air Force as a teenager and the next 10 years helped me better understand other cultures, instilled motivation and discipline within me, and taught me accountability and responsibility. I visited 46 states and traveled to 23 countries, yet I knew it was time to move on, but I wasn’t sure how.

I wanted to be in corporate communications, but wasn’t sure what that meant in real life. There was also a desperate part of me that wanted to take any job I could get because I had no idea what it meant to be a civilian employee, if people would want me, or if I was good enough to work in the civilian world. This anxiety plagued me through graduate school and was made worse by the constant worry of having a father and boyfriend deployed to Afghanistan.

As the transition continued, it was less scary. My father safely returned; I was accepted into Officer Training School (OTS); my boyfriend came back (we later married); I finished my Masters, moved to South Carolina and started looking for a job.

Keys to my transition
Two years ago, I attended the West Virginia University Integrated Marketing Communications INTEGRATE conference when Gerry Corbett, APR, Fellow PRSA, then chairman of the PRSA, was the keynote speaker. As part of his participation, he reviewed attendees’ resumes and provided improvement suggestions. Some of the key suggestions he made:

  • Marketing yourself is a three-legged stool: Your resume, your online footprint and networking. What does your stool say about you?
  • 70% of hires come from networking. Grow your network.
  • Lose the objective on your resume. Add an elevator speech/summary in its place.
  • Highlight how you helped your organization and what you accomplished, not your job description.
  • Resumes should be simple. No ornamentation required. The more white space the better. Let your work speak for itself.
  • As a professional with 15+ years experience, it’s okay to have a two-page resume. 

Using his advice, as a guide, I took steps to continue my transition into the civilian job market:

  • I revamped my resume to allow for more white space and highlighted the impact of my actions at each military assignment. To do this, I found my military performance reports to be helpful. 
  • I created a website which allows me to showcase items that I can’t include in my resume (old television stories, more details about my professional experience, links to my social media profiles, etc.) It also gave me experience in website development.
  • I finished my APR accreditation, which helps establish myself as a communicator with skills that transcend my military experience.
  • I Googled myself to ensure my LinkedIn profile was one of the top three search results. If you search your name and it’s not, you may want to consider optimizing your online presence so you have a higher search ranking.
  • I continued my PRSA membership and joined the International Association of Business Communicators. I attend their events to expand my network and learn more about my trade.
  • I joined American Corporate Partners, a nonprofit that partners military veterans with corporate executives to provide mentorship through the military to civilian transition.

I think it’s important to point out that since I left the military, every job interview I’ve earned was via an online application process. I didn’t know anyone in the companies that I applied (and was hired) to. Applying online can sometimes feel like a fruitless process. I assure you, real people look at your applications and resumes. Make them count.

It wasn’t until recently, more than five years after I separated from active duty, that I really felt like my transition was complete, and successful. The best decision I have ever made in my life was joining the military, the second best was getting out.