BTU #283 - Life after being declared Killed in Action (Justin Constantine)

You have to do the work on the front end. Just like in the military, you have to have the agency to own your transition.
— Justin Constantine

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Why Listen:

What to say about Justin? Well, he was shot in the head by a sniper and pronounced killed in action… but that didn’t stick. Justin is a Purple Heart recipient, an author, a lawyer, an motivational speaker, an entrepreneur, and he now works with a company that helps over 24k military members and their families EVERY MONTH - that’s right, every month - find their ideal job and make their career transitions easier. It’s a little disappointing to be on a show with two Justin’s, and realize that the other Justin is kicking a— and you need to try your best to keep up. This is a great interview for any career path, and I think you’ll really enjoy Justin’s story.

About Justin:

Justin joined the Marine Corps while in law school at the University of Denver School of Law, and served on active duty as a JAG officer for six years.  Then as a Reservist, Justin deployed to Iraq in 2006, serving as a Civil Affairs Team Leader while attached to an infantry battalion. During a combat patrol, Justin was shot in the head by a sniper. 

Although the original prognosis was that he had been killed in action, Justin survived thanks to risks taken by his fellow Marines and a courageous Navy Corpsman.  In fact, when Corpsman Grant first rolled Justin over, he was no longer breathing.  For his service in Iraq, Justin earned the Purple Heart, Combat Action Ribbon and Navy-Marine Corps Commendation Medal.

Justin retired from the Marine Corps at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.  He now runs his own business as an inspirational speaker and veteran employment expert.  His writing on military and leadership issues has been published in The Washington Post, Time, CNN, The Atlantic, Forbes Magazine and other media outlets.  In 2015, he completed his first book, My Battlefield, Your Office, which applies military leadership skills to the private sector. And in partnership with the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), Justin recently authored From “We Will” to “At Will”, an authoritative and interactive guidebook about veteran and military spouse employment. Justin is also a Partner at JobPath, a robust veteran employment platform that provides a variety of solutions to corporations, government agencies and nonprofit organizations that hire veterans.Our Sponsor: 

  • StoryBox- People trust each other more than advertising. StoryBox provides the tools and supports businesses need to take the best things customers say about them, and use them to drive more sales and referrals. StoryBox offers a 10% discount to companies employing veterans of the US Armed Forces.

  • Audible is offering one FREE audio book to Beyond the Uniform listeners. You can claim this offer here, and see a list of books recommended by my guests at

Transcript & Time Stamps:


Joining me today from New York, NY is Justin Constantine. Justin, can you describe your transition out of the military?

When I first active duty in 2004, I thought I had a great resume. I was a Marine Corps lawyer with tons of experience. But I really didn’t know how to market myself very well. I ultimately ended up taking a job with ICE which I learned about through a military connection. I cold applied to about 40 other jobs and was rejected from all of them. From that, I learned how important professional connections can be. I recommend veterans start thinking about their transition early and think about ways they can personally connect to companies they are interested in.

Every job I’ve had since that position with ICE has been a job I learned about through a personal connection. Today there are a lot of resources out there that can help you with this. LInkedIn is a great one that can connect you to jobs and employees.


Do you have any recommendations about how to network effectively?

I wrote a book last year about veteran unemployment. There’s a section in the book about networking. Veterans think they aren’t good at it but believe it or not you did network during your time in the military. You made connections with colleagues and superiors at various locations.

People think networking is asking for a hand out. But really it’s not about that. It’s about building friendships and relationships. It’s about people helping each other out where they can.

Sometimes veterans complain that people are unwilling to help. But you really have to do the work on the front end. You have to take command of your transition. You need to know exactly what kind of company and job you’re looking for. That makes it much easier for people to help you.

In the military, people are always around you making sure you’re getting done what you need to. But it’s not like that in the civilian sector. You have to be responsible for yourself and make sure you are working toward your goals. Many veterans are also uncomfortable speaking about themselves or about their accomplishments. So learning how to do that is also important to succeeding on the civilian side.

In an interview setting, veterans need to be ready to answer questions about their experience in a succinct and interesting way that demonstrates your experience. Get comfortable telling stories that demonstrate the value you can bring to that company. Also, before an interview, you need to do your homework. It will show very easily during the interview if you haven’t done research on the company and role beforehand.


How do you explain what you do for a living?

I’m a lawyer by trade but I left my last law-related job in 2013 to start my own business as a motivational speaker. I also work full-time as Chief Business Development Officer for JobPath. I connect with companies and encourage them to use our platform to help them hire more veterans.


What misconceptions to employers have about hiring veterans?

Many HR professionals do not have a lot of experience working with veterans. On the other side, veterans are not always good about using buzzwords and translating their experience into terms HR managers will understand.

One myth that HR professionals have is that veterans are only good at taking orders. There’s an idea that veterans are mindless minions that aren’t able to make decisions for themselves. So a lot of my time is spent teaching members of the corporate world that veterans are able to think on their feet and come up with original solutions to complex problems.

I also spend a lot of time educating people about PTSD. I use myself as an example. I was shot in the head in Iraq and later was diagnosed with PTSD. I received counseling and now consider myself extremely resilient. Veterans are not the only ones who suffer from PTSD. There are many members of the civilian populations that suffer from PTSD as well. Acknowledging that this is a problem faced not only by veterans can help destigmatize the issue.

Another misconception is that everyone is at the tip of the spear. But 85% of positions are support positions such as cooks, recruiters, human resources, etc. In an interview, you can highlight the skills you gained in the military that directly relate to the civilian sector.


Do you see common mistakes veterans make during their transition?

About 50% of people leaving the military want to do the same thing they were doing in the military. The other half want to do something different. Either way is fine but it’s important you know yourself and what you want.

If you’re looking to transition to a new field, think about using your GI Bill for a degree or certificate program that can get you qualified in that new area.

There’s also a high rate of veterans that leave their first job post-military within 6 months. That’s not a good sign. Before you even get out, do research on the companies and roles that you are looking for. That way, you are able to make a smart decision about what job will be a good fit for you.


How can veterans get more involved with JobPath?

I recommend starting at our website. On the website you can get help creating resumes, explore training courses, and find mentors. You can also receive emails that will give you job openings in your target location. Last year we helped place over 16,000 veterans in civilian job positions.


You started your own motivational speaking business. What was it like starting your own company?

I never grew up wanting to be a motivational speaker. But after I was shot in 2006, I started getting asked during my recovery and afterwards to speak at different events. I started out speaking on the side but was still working full-time. I would advise people that want to start their own company to continue working full-time as you get the company off the ground. Eventually I was able to leave my job and start doing this full-time. I also wrote and published the book My Battlefield, Your Office. This type of business does take a lot of work. But there are resources out there available to veterans. I encourage any veteran with questions about small businesses to reach out to me.

In the military, pay is never an issue. If you start your own business, you have to be comfortable talking about your value and your pay expectations.


Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Veterans in the civilian sector want to help you. Don’t be afraid to reach out to them. Veterans want to take care of each other. The other side of that coin is that when veterans reach out to you for help, be willing to assist them if you can.