Feb 18

Career Transition Insights to Jumpstart Your Search

Jim Carman I had the honor of meeting retired Navy Captain Jim Carman nearly three years ago, soon after he joined the team at the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), following his stint as a career and talent management consultant with Right Management.

Today, Jim is the Director of MOAA’s Transition Center, which provides career transition consulting, benefits and financial education, and veterans and survivor disability claim assistance to the military community. We have the good fortune to work with one another several times a year, team-teaching the organization’s Military Executives in Transition (MET) program.

I asked Jim to share some of the great counsel he continues to offer so many active duty military and vets in transition:

VSB: Jim, what do you see as the most common challenges senior military leaders must overcome as they compete for jobs in the civilian workforce?


The job market remains very competitive. 2014 was the strongest year of hiring since 1999; at the same time, companies report an average of 383 applications for every open position. Landing a good job may take some time, so it is essential to start researching and networking well before your expected retirement date.

Given the realities of the marketplace, transitioning military leaders are well-advised to be realistic in the job hunt. Specifically:

  • Look for positions where your skills, experience and passion align with a reasonable economic motivator; don’t let the salary be the primary determinant in your job search.
  • Grow your network to help you explore a wide range of industries and sectors.
  • Be prepared to consider reasonable offers that may not be perfect in terms of pay or geographic location, but do provide a chance to learn about the world of business and acquire new skills.


VSB: Current wisdom suggests that military leaders should begin preparing for transition 12-24 months before separation from service.  What specific steps would you recommend for those still on active duty?


  • Reconnect with alumni groups associated with where you earned your undergraduate and graduate degrees.
  • Join LinkedIn and create a thoughtful profile without the  military acronyms and with a photo in civilian business attire that highlights the skills you will bring to a prospective employer in the civilian workforce. Join LinkedIn groups that align with your post-military career interests.
  • Look for opportunities to attend conferences and make connections with thought leaders. It’s a little outside the comfort zone for many of us, but it can pay huge dividends through exposure to new ideas, new thinking and new possibilities.


VSB: How can transitioning senior military leaders more effectively negotiate their salary and benefit packages once offered a position in the civilian workforce?

Carman:  First, it’s important to know your own worth and equally important, the appropriate salary range for the positions you are considering in the industries of interest to you.  Don’t rely solely on the popular online salary sites since those numbers are based on self-reported data and everyone tends to exaggerate personal levels of compensation.  Instead, connect with individuals working at a similar or more senior level in the same industry and geographic area in question.  Once you nail down the accurate range, build a case as to why you should be placed in the top half of that range: education, experience, contacts, passion and energy can help justify bringing you on board near the top of the range for the position in question.  If you can’t get together on salary, consider asking for a six month performance review, presuming you are confident you will be able to have significant impact in that timeframe.

Second, try to delay the discussion about salary as long as possible.  Employers are increasingly following one of two practices: either they ask candidates for salary expectations right up front or they wait until the very end of the interview process. The latter approach will generally work in the candidate’s favor since, by that time, the candidate has presumably provided ample evidence of being the right choice to fill the job. Companies are typically impressed when a candidate never raises the compensation question or expectations. Be patient, it will come up in due course.


VSB: Many transitioning senior leaders leave behind their military careers in pursuit of a new job they expect to hold until they fully retire from the workforce. How does that mesh with current trends in the civilian workforce?

Carman: The reality is that most of us are going to have to leave our current civilian role in 5-6 years, if not sooner, in order to gain more responsibility, new challenges, increased compensation or a combination of all of these factors.  In addition, sometimes the first couple of jobs taken are not always the right fit, due to a mismatch of cultural expectations, poor communication or other factors. This is not uncommon, but it is important to learn from those mismatches to ensure a better fit the next time around.

After you land your first civilian role, take time to thank all of those people who helped you; let them know where you landed and stay in touch. Don’t assume that, once you have a job in hand, there is no need to remain active on LinkedIn. Make an effort to connect with one or two people each week; you never know who will open the door to your next opportunity.


VSB: What does MOAA do to help military leaders transition more successfully into the civilian workforce?

Carman: MOAA offers its Premium and Life Members every service and support needed to launch a successful campaign in an economy that still feels like a recession to many people. This includes:

  • Resume and LinkedIn profile development assistance
  • Interview preparation using an online video prep tool available to all of our members anywhere in the world
  • Negotiation support
  • Live and Virtual Career Fairs
  • Connections to other MOAA members working in similar industries
  • A LinkedIn career networking group. Search MOAA Career Networking under LinkedIn Groups in order to become a member.

For those who wish to go beyond ETAP for more intensive, customized career transition assistance, MOAA offers periodic, one-day, executive transition seminars in the metro DC area that also include several hours of follow-on, one-on-one career management consulting services. The cost of this one-day, executive-level seminar, follow-on consulting services and related benefits is less than the cost of one hour with most executive coaches; you can’t beat the great value of MOAA’s Military Executives in Transition (MET) program if you want to kick start your post-military job hunt into high gear. The next MET session takes place on April 2, 2015.

To learn more, visit: www.moaa.org/career

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