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May 02

A Great Transition Resource in a Tight Job Market

Transitioning out of life in the military can feel like a solo journey, especially when facing occasional rejection in this tough economic climate. There are no military orders guaranteeing your next job or where you are headed next. The good news is that there are smart people who have walked in your shoes and organizations that understand the transition process and are able to help light the path ahead.

I found such an individual and organization when I met Jim Carman, Director, Career Transition Services at the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA.) Jim retired as a Captain from a military career as a naval aviator and is a passionate advocate for transitioning military leaders and their spouses. He offers some helpful and candid advice below:

VSB:  What are the key pitfalls senior military leaders should try to avoid as they prepare to transition out of military life?

Carman:  Organizations have gotten very lean in recent years, and it’s important for transitioning senior officers to demonstrate that they can function effectively without an extensive array of support staff.  Little things like scheduling your own meetings, initiating your own return calls, and sending your own e-mail reassure a potential employer that you are not afraid to immerse yourself in the details of running your professional life.

Further, it’s important to apply to a range of positions in a range of geographic areas and to have lots of hooks in the water in a problematic economic environment.  Moreover, you may decide that even though the city is wrong or the position is a little too low, the culture of the organization and meaningfulness of the work outweigh other factors.

Every time you go through an interview process, you grow more comfortable and confident, and you learn important insider information about new organizations and industries.  Remember, after leaving military service, you’re a free agent, and the organization that hires you today will lay you off tomorrow.  If you find during the interview process that the job is not right, you can always decline to continue in the process.  Organizations do this to candidates all the time.

VSB:  Is there anything you wish you knew when you first left your career as an O-6 naval aviator that you know now?

Carman:  I didn’t appreciate that private sector organizations have an informal organizational structure; understanding this structure is critical to success after you join a new organization.  Be alert for issues outside your realm of experience, hidden agendas of co-workers and individuals with far more organizational influence than would be assumed based on their job title.

I chose to stay close to my knitting and initially gravitated into commercial aviation.  It was a safe choice and I had a wide network in this sector.  However, I should have networked more and explored other sectors in greater detail.  I’m a little risk averse, and accepting a prudent level of risk is essential for success in any endeavor.

June Scobee Rogers, the former spouse of the Shuttle Challenger Commander, Colonel Dick Scobee, said it pretty well while speaking on the 20th anniversary of the Challenger disaster: Without risk there’s no discovery, there’s no new knowledge, there’s no bold adventure, all of which help the human race to soar.  And the greatest risk is to take no risk.

VSB:  In addition to fine-tuning one’s resume and honing one’s interviewing skills, what do you see as the top three or four things military leaders should be doing to ready themselves for entering the civilian or private sector workforce?

Carman:  The most important component of a successful career transition is building a diverse network of contacts in a range of industries.  This type of network will maximize your ability to access the hidden job market – positions that are not formally advertised – and probably account for 70 percent of all new hires.  I’ve held three primary roles since leaving active duty 14 years ago and none were formally advertised.  I found each of these opportunities through networking. 

In addition to a robust professional network, a current and active LinkedIn account is important to allow a person in transition to reach into organizations where they have an interest and develop connections to support their candidacy. Another important component is to join and actively participate in professional associations, conferences, and seminars.  Active involvement increases your professional profile and helps you make propitious connections.

VSB:  What kind of career transition assistance does MOAA provide to transitioning senior military leaders?

Carman:  MOAA provides a full range of career transition services to support our membership and the extended military community, including the currently serving and military spouses.  Our services include:

  • A resume bank routinely accessed by a range of employers nation-wide, as well as a nation-wide job bank accessible by MOAA members and senior enlisted leaders who are members of our auxiliary organization, Voices 
  • Resume critique services
  • One-on-one career management consulting
  • A LinkedIn career networking group
  • Periodic networking events in the Washington, D.C. area to connect employers with officers in transition and two to three career fairs annually to connect employers with job seekers that also include an educational component to prepare members and spouses for career transition
  • More than 200 Marketing Yourself presentations and Transition Program lectures at military bases nation-wide, open to all currently serving officers and enlisted personnel and their spouses.

VSB:  Any other advice you’d like to share with our blog readers?

Carman:  Spend some time reflecting on the things you enjoyed most as a young person.  Herein we often find some clues about where we would like to focus for the second half of our professional lives.  Look for the intersection of three important imperatives: skills and experience, passion, and reasonable economic motivator.  Look for a role where these three imperatives are optimized, and try not to overly focus on the money piece.  Seek a role where you have some passion, and you’re likely to do some of your best work, and probably reap the most long-term rewards.

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