From the Air Force to the civilian workforce
Wells Fargo team member and Air Force veteran Chanty Clay uses her experience transitioning to civilian life and Ph.D. to mentor other veterans as they adjust to life after the military.
Chanty Clay made the decision to enlist in the military while she was a 20-year-old college student trying to figure out what to do with the rest of her life. Over the next 10 years of service in the Air Force, Clay’s focus on exceptional customer service and leadership led to her selection as Airman of the Year for her squadron in 1992 at Altus Air Force Base in Oklahoma.
Despite this recognition, when she was ready to transition back to civilian life a few years later, she underestimated her job skills.
“Even after serving as a leader in the Air Force, I didn’t think, at the time, that my leadership skills were up to par to be a leader in the civilian world,” said Clay, who was honorably discharged in May 1999 as a staff sergeant. “I soon learned that was not the case. I realized that in order for me to maximize my experience, I had to own it. And that’s what I start doing. I started networking. I started connecting. And — more importantly — I started demonstrating the skills I learned from serving my country.”
Today, Clay is a Human Resources consulting partner leader for Wells Fargo in St. Louis. She also volunteers as a mentor for team members and veterans, both inside and outside the company, who are transitioning from military to civilian life.
“Mentoring veterans here in our organization, and even outside of Wells Fargo, is a tremendous honor,” Clay said. “I provide that safe space so they can share with me what they’re experiencing — celebrating their successes and any challenges.”
‘It just feels really good to know that I have served my country’
Clay said that talking to a recruiter while she was in college helped her realize the military could offer her stability — something she was searching for at the time.
“I realized during the conversation with the recruiter the Air Force offered a lot of great opportunities for my future,” Clay said. “I appreciated the structure, I appreciated the camaraderie, but more importantly, I really appreciated just being able to interact with diverse cultures, experiences, and just being able to travel, learn new things, and meet new people. Just the overarching experience was fantastic.”
“Mentoring veterans here in our organization, and even outside of Wells Fargo, is a tremendous honor.” — Chanty Clay
During her time in the Air Force, she worked in inventory management, training, and human relations. While in inventory management, she had a customer service role answering questions from service members about their supplies and reports. Clay said she realized it would be beneficial to have sessions where customers could come in at their discretion, instead of only during the specific hours the office was open.
“That suggestion, or simple idea really, garnered a lot of respect from my commander and my leaders,” Clay said. “I realized the customer experience was extremely important. It was my first experience around building the trust and relationship with customers. And it was something I’ve continued to hold onto throughout my professional career as well.”
Clay learned another important lesson during her service that she has carried with her throughout her career. During Operation Desert Storm, Clay was given orders to go to Saudi Arabia. She flew home to see her family before leaving, but when she returned to her base, she was sent instead to Langley Air Force Base in Virginia.
“Although I wasn’t in Saudi Arabia, where I felt like I was going to be at the heart of what we needed to do for the war, I was still at Langley Air Force Base, and I realized my contributions there were just as equal,” Clay said. “I learned your contributions as a team member can be in so many different ways. It was during the war that my patriotism really surfaced. It just feels really good to know that I have served my country, and I’m very proud to tell any and every one that I’m an Air Force veteran.”
Transitioning to civilian life
When Clay decided to transition to civilian life, she had completed her bachelor’s degree while serving and relied on networking to help her choose her next career path. “What the Air Force had prepared me for was to be able to use those interpersonal competencies, regardless of the industry,” Clay said. “For any transitioning veteran, I think the most important thing to realize is that you know the opportunities that exist in the civilian workforce are not limited to the role you had in the military. It’s very important that you look at both your hard and soft skills.”
Clay began her career with Wells Fargo when a recruiter cold-called her and asked if she was interested in a job. Wells Fargo is committed to hiring and retaining military veterans, veterans with disabilities, and active military personnel. The company has hired more than 8,400 self-identified military veterans and was named a top company for veterans by DiversityInc. Now, 10 years later, Clay is in her fourth role with Wells Fargo, and she said she has continued to grow and build her skills with each one.
Clay also participates in the company’s programs to support veterans. She helped create, served as president for several years, and remains involved with the Veterans’ Team Member Network in St. Louis, which is focused on advocacy and community involvement to improve the lives of veterans, service members, and their families. She also represents Wells Fargo at community events like career fairs, in addition to mentoring veterans.
“I know for most military, and for most veterans, they trust other military and other veterans,” Clay said. “That’s why I like to be able to demonstrate to many of them that they can come talk to me.”
She encourages the veterans she mentors to think about their interpersonal skills, as well as their hard skills, and to volunteer for additional opportunities. “Many are uncomfortable doing that because, coming from the military, there’s a lot of teamwork and camaraderie, and it’s not a lot about your individual contribution,” Clay said. “And so it’s shifting their mindset more to what exists in the post-military career world and that it is about teamwork.”
Clay is also a part of Wells Fargo’s Veteran Retention Advisory Group and its Military Community of Practice. She said these groups, along with the Veterans’ Team Member Network, show the company’s ongoing effort to understand the needs of transitioning veterans.
Jerry Quinn, Military Affairs Program manager for Wells Fargo, said Clay is the perfect example of why the company is committed to supporting transitioning service members with careers and the opportunity to succeed financially. “She recognizes the journey she made to translate her military service into a successful career at Wells Fargo,” Quinn said. “Her personal story of transition, understanding her skills and abilities, is an experience many transitioning veterans have. That’s why Wells Fargo provides resources to help them identify and demonstrate their strengths to help them find their next career more quickly. Chanty’s dedication to service — in and out of uniform — for her team members and other veterans is further testimony of the value veterans bring to Wells Fargo and our communities.”
Since coming to Wells Fargo, Clay has earned her Ph.D. at Southern Illinois University. Her dissertation focused specifically on the transitory experience of female veterans from the military to corporate America and their ability to self-identify, market, and apply the interpersonal competencies they’ve learned in their post-military careers. She said that, while recruitment of veterans is important, the retention of veterans is even more crucial. “It’s important for organizations to really help those key stakeholders such as recruiters, managers, and leaders be able to understand the military experience, but for those of us who have served, we’re also accountable in that transition process by helping leaders understand those skills that you bring to an organization,” Clay said.
Clay said she feels Wells Fargo has made huge strides to recruit and support veterans — and she has experienced that personally. “We have made great progress, and I’m very proud of that progress,” Clay said. “I feel totally supported by Wells Fargo.”