From active duty to civilian, KPMG's Robert Barea shares what it was like to transition into corporate America after 24 years in the military.
By Robert Barea
I joined the United States Army when I was 19 years old, serving on active duty for the first 10 years, then spending 14 more years as an active duty guardsman in the New Jersey Army National Guard. Throughout those 24 1/2 years, I proudly served this country—and it was a truly wonderful and rewarding experience.
It’s also rewarding to me to come from a family of Veterans: My father, cousin, and my oldest son have served, and my middle son leaves for Navy boot camp in January 2020. I could not be prouder of my sons, or more honored to have them follow in my footsteps.
Serving in the military builds a strong foundation for leadership. From the very first day of basic training, soldiers are groomed to lead, and my first official leadership position was that of corporal. My work was similar to that of an HR professional in the civilian world, and I was responsible for recruiting, compensation, HR policies and processes, and total rewards.
Toward the end of my career, I was a principal advisor to the commander, serving as a warrant officer. In that role, I was considered a technical expert, responsible for resource management, human capital and finance; and overseeing recruiting, employee engagement, and promotions.
My array of responsibilities included serving as a member of the State of New Jersey’s Diversity Council, with part of my focus being diversity and inclusion, and ensuring the organization’s population and ratio of recruits mirrored the state’s demographics. As a result of this important work, my passion for championing diversity deepened, ultimately leading me to the role I have today at KPMG. Being able to bring my passion and leadership abilities to the firm—and to serve our colleagues by helping to ensure we are all respected and valued—has been such a rewarding and fulfilling experience.
Like many veterans, I was anxious when the time came for me to retire from the military. It took me 24 years to get to the point where I had built a strong reputation and brand in the military community. My military rank made it clear what I had accomplished. But corporate America is different; there’s no equivalent rank or other easily identifiable symbol that speaks to who, what, and how good you may be.
Redefining and reinventing yourself once you step out of uniform can be quite challenging. Fortunately for me, my transition was not as difficult as that of other veterans. It was almost seamless, and that’s compelled me to devote much of my professional and personal time to helping veterans find industries, companies, and positions in which they will be valued and given opportunities to grow.
If you are a veteran, or know a veteran who is transitioning back to civilian life, I hope you’ll share the following guidance with them. It helped me, and I’m confident it can help them, too.
Be fearless and bold.If you want to do something different than you’ve done before, you can’t go about it timidly.
Prepare, then prepare some more. Find a mentor, spend time researching industries and job opportunities, and connect with veterans/veteran-friendly people so you have as much information as possible to develop and execute a successful transition plan.
Know, and be able to effectively communicate, your value. Your value as a veteran only begins with your military service. Being able to communicate how your service provided you with a unique—and highly valuable skill set—will better position you for the roles you deserve.
Robert Barea is a director on KPMG’s National Inclusion & Diversity team in Montvale, New Jersey. For more information, please contact Candace Rivera.