Marine’s leadership skills and growth mindset lead her to Microsoft

When Erin Mackin saw that the other candidates for a job opening at Microsoft were experienced tech account managers, she assumed she was out of the running. She had a degree in communications, not computer science; she had spent the past 17 years as a member of the U.S. Marine Corps, first on active duty and then as a reservist with frequent active-duty stints. When not on Marine Corps assignments she’d worked as a park ranger and a grant writer, among other jobs. But although she didn’t think she stood a chance, she went ahead with the interview.

“I thought, this is a really great experience; I’m glad I took the day to do this. And I called it growth and learning,” Mackin says. “I was completely shocked when I was given an offer and hired into Microsoft.”

Erin Mackin didn't have a tech background, but that didn't stop the Marine reservist from getting a job at Microsoft.

Erin Mackin didn’t have a tech background, but that didn’t stop the Marine reservist from getting a job at Microsoft.

Mackin now understands that her communications background, her military experience and her attitude were excellent qualifications for a technical account manager position serving Marine Corps clients in the Western U.S. She’s come to see that a growth mindset, or the willingness and effort to keep learning new skills and information, is what helps military or civilian employees succeed when they move into new roles. She wants other service members from all branches to realize that they also have strong qualifications for civilian careers that can help them achieve their dreams — and they shouldn’t worry about whether their resume looks different from that of more traditional applicants.

“I want other people to know that they don’t have to deny themselves what they think they might be able to do because they think it’s too hard or it’s impossible,” Mackin says. “The great thing about military folks is they’re completely dependable, and if there’s a lack of leadership they’ll take the reins; they are all about getting the mission accomplished, but underneath all of that is relationships, and underneath all of that is your relationship with yourself and knowing that you can learn anything.”

Forging her own path wasn’t simple for Mackin. After earning her bachelor’s degree from Tulane University, she realized that she had a good education but no clear idea of what she really wanted to do. Soon she decided that her best choice would be to join the Marine Corps.

“It seemed the most challenging; it offered the intangibles like honor, courage and commitment. And that really mattered to me,” Mackin says. “I felt like my character needed to be fortified before I did anything else in the world.”

Mackin spent four years on active duty, then transitioned to the Marine Corps Reserve and civilian life as a park ranger. Moving from location to location for the National Park Service, she was stationed in Louisiana when Hurricane Katrina hit and was quickly reactivated by the Marine Corps to help protect and relocate military families in the area. New active-duty assignments followed, alternating with civilian jobs and frequent relocations.

When she found herself in California with a promised job that had just fallen through, she turned to networking, reaching out to former civilian and military colleagues alike. Soon she heard back from Brian McNamara, a former Camp Pendleton colleague who was now at Microsoft. He was building the Marine Corps account team and wanted her to apply.

“And my initial response was, are you kidding me? It’s Microsoft,” Mackin says. “I don’t even know how to get around through Office on my PC, I am not the girl to talk to for this” But McNamara insisted, and she decided to trust his judgment.

Mackin sent in her resume and did her research, finding out just what the position would involve and what the interview experience would be like. One of her top questions was what kind of an environment Microsoft would offer for a military veteran; she was heartened by what she learned about the company’s enthusiastic support for service members and her ongoing reserve commitment. Now she works with Marine Corps clients to implement technology solutions that can make a difference not just in the administrative halls, but also on the battlefield.

“The Marine Corps is used to doing more with less, and the IT departments kind of run that way too,” Mackin says. “They tend to be really reactive, and it’s a true mission of mine to get them to be more proactive and mature IT-wise. Time is money; money is resources that could be sent other places. Time to make decisions affects Marines’ lives out on the battlefield, their training, and whether we bring all those men and women home.”

In addition to her account work, Mackin spends time mentoring service members who are preparing to transition to civilian life. She participates as a mentor in the Microsoft Software & Systems Academy (MSSA) training program and is a frequent speaker at career and networking events for military personnel, especially women; recently she spoke to the Transitioning Military Women Symposium at Camp Pendleton. She avidly encourages service members to take the skills they’ve learned in the military and apply them to civilian opportunities. It may seem daunting, she says, but it’s far from impossible.

“They have that amazing ability, proven ability to use and exercise their growth mindset,” Mackin says. “You can learn anything. Military people have that in a very dependable way, but they usually don’t see it because it’s just a part of how you operate in the military. But they have this ability to learn anything. Employers need to know that, and the military folks who are transitioning need to know that.”

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