Retired Marine Sherman Gillums Jr. is the director of FEMA’s Office of Disability Integration and Coordination whose mission is to help people with disabilities before, during and after disasters. He provides insight into his career and how veterans can pursue opportunities at the agency. In November 2022, veterans accounted for approximately 15.6% of the FEMA workforce.
How did your experience in the Marines prepare you for your current role?
My experience in the Marines prepared me for my current role by exposing me to what ordinary people can do under extraordinary conditions under the right leadership. People from all walks of life take up the challenge to become one of the “The Few and the Proud,” so we know there’s no one approach or prototype for successful leadership. I’ve seen and led Marines at many levels and know what they’re capable of when facing a common enemy or challenge. I am honored to continue to serve my country at FEMA in the capacity of representing underserved communities and the most vulnerable populations to prepare for, respond to and recover from disaster.
What are the roles veterans can play in their communities when it comes to disaster preparedness, response and recovery?
Veterans are selfless and service-oriented by nature, and they also have leadership skills that are critical during emergency response. Everyone becomes a first responder when disaster strikes, and veterans were trained to problem-solve and operate efficiently under pressure.
So, when a community faces hardship due to a disaster, the veterans within those communities are better equipped than most to play a major role in the response by doing what they were trained to do: encounter, adapt and overcome. Except this time, it involves an entire community that must tap into the same resilience, with veterans leading the way.
What benefit do you see in having veterans in leadership roles at government agencies, like FEMA, when it comes to advocating for veteran hiring?
FEMA is committed to hiring veterans to meet our mission to help people during disaster. In fact, nearly 16% of our workforce are veterans, including our current Administrator Deanne Criswell, who served in the Colorado Air National Guard for 21 years. FEMA and the entire federal government can benefit greatly from having veterans in leadership positions given many veterans’ proven leadership experience, adaptability, discipline and, most importantly, their display of genuine concern for people under their watch.
Are there specific types of jobs in the military that you think translate well to a career at FEMA?
To be honest, I think many veterans possess job skills that make them uniquely positioned for a wide variety of jobs in FEMA. Every type of job skill you gain from military experience, from logistics to administration to supply to food services, is transferable to FEMA because they are critical to keeping America safe. Although FEMA is not the military, the emergency management mission has many of the same roles and functions we see in uniform. Former military members draw on those unique skills learned in service, as well as their training, to move quickly, efficiently and decisively in high-pressure situations where lives are at stake.
Where can veterans find more information about federal jobs and volunteer opportunities in disaster response and recovery?
Veterans should start by going to FEMA.gov to find out more about career and volunteer opportunities at the agency. Visit these links for information about careers and volunteering:
Feds Hire Vets also has information on federal career opportunities: Additional information on the use of the special noncompetitive appointing authorities can be found on OPM.gov and EEOC.gov.
What are your tips for how veterans can stand out when applying to your agency?
Read position announcements very carefully and align past experience with every bullet in the description of required competencies.
Be prepared to paint a picture in the mind of the interviewer of the type of person you will be in the job if selected. Remember, the interviewer may be thinking about team chemistry as well, so take the time to outline the success you’ve had when joining new teams.
Ensure you place an emphasis on your role as a “people” leader, not a “paper” leader. No one will care how much rank you had, how many military programs you completed or decorations you earned unless you can concretely relate it to what is needed in the role you’re seeking.