Military talent keeps rail carrier on track.
By Dan Fazio
CSX Transportation Inc. traces its history to the early the 19th century, when the American railroads were still in their infancy. The company was born on July 4, 1828, when construction began on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, the nation’s first common carrier railroad. Over the next 181 years, the B&O evolved into today’s CSX Transportation – a principal operating company of CSX Corporation.
Today CSX Transportation boasts a 21,000 mile rail network in 23 states and two Canadian provinces. The company employs 34,000 workers – 7,600 of them military veterans. That means 22 percent of the company’s work force brought with them the skills and intangibles taught in the military: leadership, a strong work ethic, attention to detail, responsibility, maturity and adaptability. Military veterans also are trained to be safety-oriented, a trait considered invaluable in a safety conscious industry like the railroads.
G.I. Jobs talked to Steve Toomey, manager of military and diversity recruiting for CSX, to get the inside scoop on how military transitioners can find career opportunities with the railway carrier.
G.I. Jobs: What do veterans bring to your company that you like?
ST: CSX values the skills and experience that accompany veterans, such as the value of safety and the disciplined mindset. Military candidates also possess other assets that make them extremely valuable such as being diverse, trainable, flexible, dedicated to profession, educated, technically savvy, leadership, performance in adverse conditions, willingness to relocate and commitment to teamwork. Military candidates emulate CSX core values.
G.I. Jobs: What issues/surprises do you find that military transitioners/veterans need to be aware of when entering the civilian work force?
ST: Keep salary expectations realistic; don’t worry about other employees’ salaries or job titles. New employees can expect to begin at standard entry level rates with the opportunity for increases based on performance over time. Most former military, Guard and Reserve employees perform above their peers due to attention to detail and personal responsibility. The other issue is working with or supervising employees. Many former military are used to receiving and assigning lawful “orders.” In the civilian work force rank has very little effect, and “ordering” employees instead of asking them may create a hostile environment. Treat all employees with fairness and dignity.
G.I. Jobs: What advantages do military personnel have over their peers of the same age and education level?
ST: Almost all military members live and work in highly safety sensitive environments such as the flight deck, air field or battlefield and must perform in a mature, responsible and safe manner. They must always safeguard weapons, equipment and records. CSX is also a highly safety sensitive environment. Safety is a way of life at CSX, as it is in the military. Civilian peers generally do not obtain similar responsibilities and experiences as quickly as military members and thus must be trained extensively in safeguarding themselves, other employees and CSX equipment.
G.I. Jobs: What disadvantages do you find military hires are up against in their civilian job searching?
ST: Many recruiters do not have experience or knowledge about military candidates and do not understand associated military jargon; they pass or elect not to interview military candidates that may be an excellent fit for their organization. Job candidates should present their military experience in civilian terms as much as possible. Use the job description and the terminology contained within the job posting to formulate your résumé or application.
G.I. Jobs: What are the most common mistakes you see on military/veteran résumés?
ST: Using the same résumé for different career opportunities that have unrelated qualifications demonstrates both a lack of motivation and attention to detail. Applicants should tailor each résumé for the specific career opportunity and avoid résumés with too many pages describing duties rather than results. Also, avoid using military acronyms and present skills and experience that match the job description and meet minimum qualifications.
G.I. Jobs: What are the most common mistakes military/veterans make in interviews?
ST: Lack of preparation is very evident to a savvy interviewer, including both non-verbal communication and research of the organization. When a candidate does not appear excited to work with CSX and has limited knowledge of our company and industry, it demonstrates the candidate is looking for a job and not a career opportunity. Also, when asked specific behavioral type questions, some applicants lack supporting evidence or fail to give specific examples.
G.I. Jobs: Do most military candidates dress appropriately for their interviews?
ST: Because many of our positions are in operations, most of the candidates dress appropriately for the position, and some dress above what is expected. Management candidates must dress professionally for interviews and must demonstrate leadership and common sense in all tasks.
G.I. Jobs: How would you recommend a military candidate research your company to see if it is the right company for them?
ST: Initially, candidates should use networking contacts that have experience with the rail industry and railroad recruiters, such as Transition Assistance Professionals, state veteran representatives or other contacts. Research our Web site, complete our military survey at www.csxmilitary.com and review our military site and careers sections at www.csx.com.
G.I. Jobs: Is relocating essential to promotion within your company?
ST: Management positions may require relocation as part of the promotional opportunity. Union positions generally do not require relocation to promote if the opportunity is available. Many union employees promote into management and relocate as part of their new responsibilities. The more flexible a candidate or existing employee is to relocation, the more opportunities for promotion may exist.
G.I. Jobs: What types of positions does your company recruit military for?
ST: CSX has found that military veterans can fit into all positions within our organization. We generally recruit military for union positions, such as freight conductor, yardmaster, mechanic/machinist, signal worker, trackworker, electrician, dispatcher and clerk. We also heavily recruit military for our management training programs.
G.I. Jobs: Describe the responsibilities of one of these positions.
ST: Freight conductors supervise over-the-road operations of trains. Responsibilities include planning each train segment, speed requirements for each train, regulations compliance in accordance with Federal Railroad Administration, total safety of their train, verifying the placement of cars, inspecting hazardous material, meeting tonnage requirements for their train, verifying signals, switching of lines and assisting in picking up and setting out locomotives from their train. Conductors must have the ability to work on-call 24 hours per day, seven days per week. They work outdoors in a variety of weather conditions and travel to job sites around the area. Weekend and holiday work can be and often is required.
G.I. Jobs: Can a new hire stay in this position for an entire career or do you require new hires to “move up or move out” like the military does?
ST: Again, it depends on the position. Freight conductors are expected to move up to locomotive engineer after a few years of experience. Craft positions allow employees to stay in the field for as long as they want. Any employee who desires more responsibility and challenge will be considered for promotion and CSX encourages all employees to apply for advancement within the organization.
G.I. Jobs: Are there any other special non-military specific incentives that might interest military new hires?
ST: CSX pay ranks in the 90th percentile for wages and benefits for blue-collar workers. In a recent Forbes magazine article, three railroad crafts ranked in the top 10 paying blue-collar jobs. Union employees can review incentive summaries at (www.nric.ws/benefits/toc.htr). Management employees can access incentives at (www.csx.com/careers). Railroad retirement (www.rrb.gov) is a program that pays an annuity from the railroad retirement board after a vesting period. Other incentives include: medical, dental, vision, insurance, pension plan, 401k program, prepaid college 529 plan and tuition reimbursement of up to $3,500 annually.
G.I. Jobs: Describe the typical career progression for someone in a position that you normally hire for?
ST: Freight conductor is the most frequent position we hire for. Freight conductors can expect up to 25 weeks of initial training. After spending a few years learning this position, freight conductors will progress to locomotive engineer, or choose to apply for yardmaster or railroad management positions.
G.I. Jobs: What are some of the programs your company has to seek out and identify military and veteran candidates?
ST: CSX has a Web site dedicated to military veterans that can be accessed at (www.csx.com). This is a one-page brief to “Keep in Touch” so we may stay in contact with each veteran. CSX also has a full-time military recruiting team, consisting of an Air Force veteran, Navy retiree and an Army Reserve officer, who target all military Transitional Assistance Programs (TAP). We also have established relationships with Disabled Veteran Outreach Program Representatives (DVOPs) and Local Veteran Employment Representatives (LVERs) attached to each state’s Department of Labor Employment Division or Employment One-Stop Centers. CSX recruiters and other employees are in the process of seeking approval of several programs of study by the Veterans Administration, so qualified veterans can obtain VA funding.
G.I. Jobs: How has your company benefited from an active military-hire program?
ST: At CSX, safety is a way of life as it is for our military veterans. From the first day of boot camp to the last day of service, each member must practice safety to protect their life and the lives of their teammates. Experiences working under extreme pressure in a variety of external environments within a complex, diverse work force are also attributes that have benefited our organization.
G.I. Jobs: What type of educational experience do you look for in military candidates?
ST: Although education experience is always valued, CSX generally does not require a bachelor’s degree for craft or union positions. Certifications in welding and other craft specialties are sometimes required. Degrees are generally required for our management training programs, but NCOs with significant leadership experience can also apply.
G.I. Jobs: How many military veterans work in your company and what percentage of the total work force does this comprise?
ST: About 7,600 military veterans are identified within the CSX Transportation work force, making up about 22 percent.
G.I. Jobs: Did any of the senior executives in your company serve in the military? If so, can you provide names and titles?
ST: Many of the senior executives at CSX have served proudly within the military. Our military recruiters facilitate Executive Transition Seminars at several military facilities. CSX values executive experience and education; we actively recruit former military for a variety of executive positions. The command sergeant major of the Army National Guard is a CSX locomotive engineer currently on a military leave of absence.