A “Calling,” Not a Career

Dec 1, 2007

The year was 1980 and I was a 24-year-old lieutenant in the Marine Corps. My commanding officer, a lieutenant colonel, was counseling me on my performance as an officer under his command, and he gave me some very good advice. He said that anyone who desires to make the Marine Corps a career must understand that it is not a job, it is a “calling.” That’s because a Marine Corps officer must be willing to live a life of sacrifice and endure hardships, and the rewards come from serving others and the nation. This lieutenant colonel later rose to the rank of four-star general. After the Marines, among many notable achievements, he authored two best-selling books, one of which is Battle Ready. The final chapter of Battle Ready is titled “The Calling,” within which General Anthony Zinni expresses his view that a professional military officer must be a selfless individual who views military service as a “calling” – not a job.

Our industry is also a calling, though hardly as noble as military service. Only the people within our industry (and their spouses) understand how tough it is. For every victory, we endure five defeats. When the downs hit, they are BIG downs. It’s accepted as a fact that for every 100 people who enter this business, 90 leave it in less than 10 years, and most leave it within the first year. I know only five people who live in my state (Virginia) who have been at it longer than I have. Even those who succeed in our business rarely remain at it for more than a decade. They tire of the rejection, the unappreciative candidates, the fee-avoiding companies, the friction from human resources people, the falloffs, the unsteady income – the list goes on. Most who leave this business say the same things on their way out: “This is just too difficult for me” and “I just don’t see any way this business can ever become enjoyable” or “My nerves just cannot handle this anymore.” In my own life, after a particularly bad day, my youngest daughter once said to me, “Dad, since you are good at finding jobs, why don’t you just take one of those good jobs for yourself?”(!)

What keeps people in this business? I cannot speak for others, but I know what keeps me in the industry. It’s the satisfaction of knowing I am doing something that so few are able to do, and by doing so, I am adding great things to people’s lives, to business, and to society in general. Here are some examples:

There was a young professional who came to me saying that he had to live in Nashua, New Hampshire, because both his parents were dying of cancer there and he wanted to be with them during their last days. No recruiters would even attempt to find him something anywhere near Nashua because he was a very high-income individual. With high income, there are fewer opportunities, especially in a smaller city. After several days’ cold calling the presidents and general managers of over 200 companies, I found a high-paying position for him located less than eight miles from his parents’ home.

Then there was the young Navy enlisted technician who had a hardship discharge and sole custody of three very young children. His ex-wife was a drug abuser, and no recruiting firms would even attempt to help him because he had too much “baggage.” We worked hard for him, and we placed him with a Fortune 50 company with superb benefits for him and his children. The company was just 16 miles from his home.

Or the manufacturing manager whose plant had closed. He had been on several interviews, but had no job offers. We identified what he was doing wrong and coached him on it, marketed him aggressively within 30 miles of where he lived, and placed him as a plant manager just 11 miles from his home. But that was not the end of this story. Seven years after placing him, in a city 145 miles away from where we had placed him, I was at a dinner party at a friend’s home and by sheer coincidence, this man and his wife were at that same party, and were now living three doors down from my friend’s home! His wife came up, hugged me, and told me that he was now the president of the company where we had placed him, that it would never have happened without me, and they had just moved the headquarters to the larger city where we were visiting my friend.

Then there was the young Army captain West Point graduate son of a good friend of mine. This captain had served eight years in the Army, had flown attack helicopters in Iraq, and was now ready to separate from active duty. He desired to be near his parents so his young children could visit their grandparents, my friends, after so much separation. This young man had great employment offers from all across the USA, but none within 100 miles of his parents. We placed him with a great company near his parents.

There are many more stories from my quarter century in this “calling.” I have a map of the United States in my office. When I consider doing something new, or “retiring” from this business, the thought comes and goes quickly when I look at that map and realize there isn’t a midsize city or town anywhere in the USA that doesn’t have a person I placed living in it, and/or a company I have helped staff. What else could I ever want to do?? I am helping great Americans during difficult transitional periods, at no expense to them. These people will continue to need my company’s services. I really do see my profession as a “calling,” and I am proud to have answered its call, and stayed the course through all its ups and downs.

Neil McNulty is president of McNulty Management Group (, a placement firm that uses, and licenses placement firms to use, its proprietary “30/30 Placement Programâ„¢,” the nation’s only system for placing transitioning military personnel into civilian jobs within 30 days and within 30 miles of where the transitioning military person desires to live.

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