American Corporate Partners is one of the most cited resources on Beyond the Uniform. Colleen is ACP’s Executive Director, and in this interview, we talk about what she and her team have learned from helping over 14,500 Veterans in their civilian career. We talk about mentorship, networking, and more.
Colleen Deere is the Executive Director of American Corporate Partners, where she has served for over nine years. She graduated from the University of Mary Washington, Cum Laude, and holds a Master’s in English Composition and Rhetoric from Kansas State University. She is married to an Army Veteran who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2008-2009, and is the mother of two toddlers, and is an avid long-distance runner.
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Transcript & Time Stamps:
Joining me today from New York City is Colleen Deere. Colleen Deere is the Executive Director of American Corporate Partners, where she has served for over nine years. She graduated from the University of Mary Washington, cum laude, and holds a Master’s in English Composition and Rhetoric from Kansas State University. She is married to an Army Veteran who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2008-2009, and is the mother of two toddlers, and is an avid long-distance runner.
How would you explain American Corporate Partners?
The best way to think of us is as a Big Brothers Big Sisters for the military. We were started in 2008 by Sidney Goodfriend, a retired investment banker. He quit his job in 2007 and wanted to bring veterans together with business leaders. As a result, he started ACP. What we do is pair up a veteran or active duty military member or spouse with a mentor in the private sector. The mentor and mentee form a partnership to work on career development during the mentee’s transition out of the military. The mentor and mentee check in with each other once a month for a year to work on customized career goals.
During our existence, we’ve helped 14,500 veterans. We also launched our spouse program last fall and we’ve had several hundred spouses participate in our programs since then.
ACP connects the mentors with mentees but it’s really the mentors and not ACP that are putting in the hard work of providing career advice and guidance to veterans. So we’re extremely grateful for the time and expertise provided by our mentors.
ACP gives veterans such an incredible vehicle to transform their transition out of the military.
There are so many resources out there to help veterans but I think a lot of times veterans are hesitant to ask for help. When my husband transitioned out of the military, he thought getting a job would be much easier than it was and he didn’t want to ask for help. Eventually, he did get connected to an ACP mentor and that person was able to eventually help him find the job that he is still in nine years later.
What does the ACP mentorship process look like?
The process is quite unique in that it is very hands-on. We have 40 folks in our New York City office. They are responsible for everything from handling new applications to putting mentors and mentees together in a mentorship.
Veterans and spouses can be placed in a mentorship through the application on our website. It takes about 10 minutes to complete. We’ll then set up a phone call with the veteran to discuss more about what he or she is looking for from the mentorship relationship. The veteran will then be paired with a mentor and the year long mentorship will be set up.
In order to make the most out of this partnership, the veteran should be very clear on what they want from the mentorship. That way, we can pair you with someone that will be able to help you work toward the exact goals and objectives you want to work toward. If you know you want to work in a specific industry or sector, we can make sure we match you with someone in that field.
Another thing that makes for a successful relationship is looking at the mentor’s network. Your mentor will likely be willing to introduce you to people in their network and those people can also be extremely valuable to you during your transition and beyond.
Are veterans going into a mentorship relationship usually pretty clear on what they want to do as far as industry and role?
Oftentimes, veterans aren’t sure of exactly what they want to do. In this case, the mentor can often provide more general advice about various directions that the veteran can take their career in.
We also have other resources that can expose veterans to different sectors in a more general way. We have representatives from various industries offer web seminars that are open to any veteran. This can give veterans a better idea of what opportunities are available in different fields.
I also recommend that veterans check out ACP AdvisorNet. Through this resource, veterans can log on and ask questions of various business professionals. This can be helpful to get very targeted advice about questions you might have.
Even if you participate in our mentor program and your year long mentorship has ended, you are still invited to various events and programming we put on throughout the country.
You mentioned that ACP recently begun offering these mentorships for military spouses as well. Can you talk more about that?
It’s a resource I wish I had when my husband was serving in the military. I had been living in New York working in publishing when my husband got stationed in Kansas. I ended up cobbling together three part-time jobs in Kansas but in hindsight, I wish I had gone about things a bit differently. That ended up putting me at a disadvantage when he got out because I felt like I had kind of wasted that time in Kansas.
Due to limited resources, ACP originally wasn’t able to offer mentorships to military spouses. However, we ultimately were able to secure funding from PepsiCo and Johnson & Johnson to begin offering mentorships to military spouses.
I think a lot of times military spouses aren’t unappreciated - it’s just that veteran-focused organizations sometimes are thinking more about the military member than the spouse. So we’re happy that we’ve been able to start offering programming to military spouses as well.
Are there any common mistakes that you see veterans make during their transition?
Many veterans feel that they can only apply for jobs when they meet every bullet point on a job posting. I believe that if you’re looking at a job and you’re interested in it, it’s worth applying and seeing if you can at least get the conversation going.
I also think that veterans think that they can go into a job fair and leave with a job offer. But that’s not really the way it works. You should go into a job fair with a very specific goal of exactly what companies you want to visit and what kinds of jobs you are looking for. This will help you get started talking to different companies about potential career opportunities.
Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Typically, members of the military community want to help you and will be willing to get on a phone call with you or meet you in person if you’re in the same geographic area.
Do you have any resources you would recommend?
A blog I recommend is Allison Green’s Ask a Manager. There is a podcast associated with the blog as well.
A great book I recommend is The Lean Startup. We’ve used a lot of the Lean Startup principles at ACP.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
To me, ACP is a complete game-changer for military members and spouses. It’s completely free to take advantage of. It’s a network of people that are here to help you command your transition. I encourage your listeners to take part if they haven’t already.