Transitioning from military to civilian life is never easy, but it gets harder and harder as time goes on. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Susan Merrick had served as an architectural engineer for 22 years, and found that everything had changed drastically since she entered full-time military service right after graduating from USC, which she attended on an ROTC scholarship.
The Air Force had offered Susan and her husband, a commercial architect, an excellent life -- they were stationed in various parts of the country while Susan worked to design and build military hospitals throughout the world. When their two children came along, Susan and her husband shared child-rearing responsibilities, with her husband even doing architectural projects part-time from home in Virginia for several years while Susan went to work every day near the Pentagon.
It worked well for them for several years, but the ideal plan had always been for Susan to eventually retire and move back to Southern California where they both grew up, where their families lived, and where the sun shined a lot more often. When the timing was right, Susan retired, her husband found full-time work with an Orange County architectural firm and they came across an ideal home on the West Coast when real estate prices were favorable. All that remained was for Susan to find a job in the private sector. Since she was a specialist in the field of health care, she didn't anticipate any difficulties, despite the recession.
The skills, qualifications and expertise she'd honed in the military were certainly as good, if not better, than anyone's out there. But she knew she needed work in one particular area: her appearance. She was in her early 40s and in great shape, but she'd been wearing a uniform to work every day for 22 years, with no makeup and her hair tied back -- even her earrings were limited to conservative posts, and she wore military-issue glasses, which were not the most stylish.
On weekends and during after-hours at home, Susan's life was predominantly spent on family time, raising two very busy and bright children who were still in elementary school. Her casual wardrobe mostly consisted of jeans, tennis shoes, knit tops and sweaters: perfect for raising kids, not so perfect for impressing potential employers.
To successfully compete in the Southern California job market, Susan realized she would need to sharpen her look. She was selected to be included in the makeover section of the new book, 'Career Comeback--Repackage Yourself to Get the Job You Want,' and went on a whirlwind ride that we documented here on AOL Jobs.
Lifting Susan's spirit and self-confidence was a big part of the transition. She was starting from scratch in a whole new world, and wouldn't be surrounded by colleagues who were immediately aware of the value of her stellar military record and connections. "I realize it's all about what I can do, rather than how I look," she said. "But when you feel like you look good, you have a lot more confidence, and you can make a better impression."
Hair today -- gone tomorrow
The hair came first. Since Susan was required to wear it braided or pinned up, she hadn't paid much attention to it, and had never in her life had it styled or colored professionally. Jennifer Nash of Suburbia Salon in Studio City, Calif., was thrilled to be working with her version of a "virgin" (someone who had never had her hair professionally processed). She was impressed with the thickness and the undamaged condition of Susan's hair, but felt it needed some styling, shaping and coloring. Jen warmed up the subtly graying ash base with red and golden hues, and brightened her natural honey-colored highlights.
As for styling, Jen left Susan's hair long enough so she could still pull it back in a ponytail when she was in a hurry, (and also not shock her husband). She gave Susan silky bangs to add a soft look to her forehead, and subtle layers to frame her face.
When it came to Susan's face, celebrity makeup artist Marie Monet knew she'd have to go easy, since Susan wasn't used to wearing any makeup at all. Heavy foundation and eye color would never make their way into Susan's routine. Still, Susan had a little rosacea, or red patches, that needed to be evened out, so Marie suggested a tinted moisturizer, which takes care of two problems at once.
Eyebrows tend to diminish once a woman passes age 35, so to fill them in and define them, Marie suggested using a brow definer or tinted brow gel, rather than a pencil, which can look harsh and can be difficult to apply so that eyebrows look even. The tinted brow gel allowed Susan to keep things as quick, simple and natural-looking as possible.
While Monet used subtle, natural, earth tones on Susan's eyes and a blending bronzer on her cheeks, she said that in a pinch, Susan could get away without any of that if she evens out her skin tones, defines her brows and uses a tinted, moisturizing gloss on her lips. Monet advised that it should be in a subtle tone not too far from the natural color of Susan's lips, so that lip liner would not be necessary. Lip liner can be labor-intensive and often comes off easily -- Susan wouldn't want to take the time to keep her lip liner perfect, and couldn't imagine herself checking it in the mirror every 15 minutes.
A little style goes a long way
Red, a color Susan had never worn to work before, was chosen to emphasize the fact that she was starting a new professional life in which she would be vibrant and creative. After so many years of being camouflaged, why not stand out? A dress was in order, since she'd had quite enough of wearing pants to work every day, and could now revel in her femininity rather than feeling like she had to obscure it. The cut of the dress, however, needed to be relatively conservative and businesslike. (You have to be careful with that when you're wearing red in the workplace.)
Granted, a red dress and black heels will probably not serve her best when she's out inspecting job sites -- but when she's going in for an interview or having a picture taken for her profile on various professional and social networking sites, it's just the thing. It catches the eye and gives a vibrant, confident, memorable impression.
Susan's look was completed with a black Lodis tote that matches her shoes, and is big enough to hold resumes and samples of her work, along with everything else she would normally carry in her purse. A square briefcase would look as if she borrowed it from her husband for the occasion, and most purses aren't roomy enough or have a sufficiently professional appearance.
By the time she was finished, Susan was happy, confident and excited to start her job search, rather than dreading the thought of it. She knew she no longer had to worry about how she looked, and whether or not she was dressed appropriately. But she was even more eager to go home and show her new look to her family. She admitted to being a little concerned about her children's reactions -- like most kids, they're a little adverse to change, especially where Mom is concerned. But there was no doubt in her mind about how her husband would respond.
Update: Since Susan's Marvelous Military Makeover was first posted on AOL Jobs, she received a number of job opportunities, the best one involving hospital design in the private sector, from a former military contact who saw her story on AOL. So far, however, Susan has opted to pass on going back to work full-time. It seems that after 22 years of service to her country, Susan has decided to focus on service to her family. And her children, who are in fourth and sixth grades, wouldn't have it any other way.
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