Joe Wallis has a nickname: the Golden Rolodex. He’s earned it over years of recruiting for placement firms and employers, building an extensive network of former colleagues, fellow service members and business associates. Today, as senior military engagement manager for Military Affairs at Microsoft, he’s building on that network to help members of the armed services make the transition to civilian life, connecting them with positions in the tech industry.
“I was hired at Microsoft specifically to build a veteran recruiting program,” Wallis says. “At the same time, some of these folks don’t end up at Microsoft; I would help them get connected to another opportunity. The way I’ve looked at it is that as long as I can help a veteran transition into a career — if it’s at Microsoft, great, but we’re not going to hire all of them, so any connection I can make to help somebody get into whatever career they’re looking for, it’s a positive thing.”
Wallis knows firsthand how challenging it can be to move from military to civilian life. After serving six years of active duty in the U.S. Marine Corps, he joined the Marine Corps Reserve and pursued a civilian career in employment recruiting. He’s gone back to active duty with the Reserves several times, and each time has found that moving between service and civilian life can be challenging.
“I’d say the biggest challenge is just preparation,” Wallis says. “The last several years have been very taxing on the military service member with deployments; when you come back you’re just getting ready for the next one. So they’re not really focused on the civilian sector, and may not necessarily do a lot of preparation, and then all of a sudden it’s time to move on.”
Wallis advises service members who are coming to the end of their military careers to spend time thinking carefully about their skills and their goals — not just what they already do but what they want to do. They should also find out about different company cultures; just as the infantry has a different culture from aviation, he says, civilian companies vary considerably. After that, the challenge is to find a way to stand out from the thousands of other job applicants in any given industry sector. Not surprisingly, Wallis says personal networking is the best way to break through the noise of a crowded field of job-seekers.
“Start networking and reaching out to people in that company that you may know,” Wallis says. “LinkedIn has really helped out quite a bit; you can connect to another veteran who may give you some advice and be willing to spend some time talking to you. I get a number of requests every week, and I do speak to some folks about how to get through their transition and find the career they’re looking for.”
Military service has always been part of Wallis’s life. His father was a naval warrant officer, bringing young Joe along on numerous overseas assignments. Wallis himself attended the U.S. Naval Academy and was commissioned as a Marine Corps officer. He knows firsthand that coming back to civilian life isn’t just about handing in a rifle and picking up a laptop; it’s about adjusting to every aspect of daily life and integrating into the community.
Wallis knows that a good job is just one piece of the puzzle, which is why he throws his support behind Microsoft’s partnership with organizations like Team Red, White & Blue (RWB), which help returning veterans find the personal support they need after their military service has ended. In September, Wallis was proud to take part in the Old Glory Relay organized by Team RWB to carry the flag from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. Wallis participated in the opening ceremonies on Sept. 11, then led the first segment of the Sept. 12 leg as the flag left Microsoft’s Silicon Valley headquarters.
“I think we can bring greater visibility to Team RWB as we get the word out and bring the power of the Microsoft brand as it goes across the country,” Wallis says. “What greater way than to bring people to a run where the flag and other veterans are there that have similar backgrounds? It’ll allow the group to connect with more veterans and more individuals who would be interested in their mission of supporting veterans as they go back to their communities.”
Wallis is proud to be part of Microsoft’s support for veterans moving into civilian life. While he’s a key figure in tech industry recruiting — it’s not just people at Microsoft who call him the Golden Rolodex — he’s building a network that is creating its own momentum.
“I’m able to connect with folks in the recruiting organization to expose them to service members’ resumes, and if they have questions about their title or responsibilities, our military affairs team can help translate,” Wallis says. “And then the veterans that we’ve hired give back by helping others get into their area of the organization. When they have openings they’ll reach out and say, ‘We think this would be great for other service members.’”