Apr 30

Former Air Force Colonel Now University COO

longSuccessful career transitions require thoughtful preparation, careful planning, thorough conversation and a little bit of luck. 

You might take a few different paths before you land the job that suits you best and you may end up in a field different from the one you had anticipated.  The key is your ability to transfer your skill set seamlessly into a new organization.  Retired Colonel John Long did just that when he retired from the U.S. Air Force three years ago. Today, he is Senior Vice President and COO at his Alma Mater, the University of South Florida.


VSB: John, what do you enjoy most about your current job?

Long: Working in higher education provides constant challenges, both culturally and in technical application.  I learn something new every day.  I have an opportunity to interface with brilliant people on a daily basis.  I also have the self-satisfaction (as I did in military life) of preparing our young people to be productive citizens.


VSB: What are the key similarities and differences between your current job as Chief Operating Officer of a major university and the leadership role you played prior to leaving military service?

Long: The jobs are very similar from a functional standpoint.  As a Mission Support Group Commander, I essentially ran a “city.”  That is comparable to what I do now as Chief Operating Officer at the university.  Additionally, I have all budget and finance responsibilities — a natural fit for me since my field was Financial Management in the Air Force.


VSB: Would you have done anything differently to better prepare yourself for transition into the academic arena?

Long: To be honest, I had never intended on a career in higher education.  Like most retiring colonels, my initial thoughts were that I would start work in defense, possibly in a contract position, as I embarked on a second career.  But an opportunity became available at the university that matched my experience and skill sets, so I took advantage of that and accepted the job.


VSB: What advice would you share with senior military leaders in transition contemplating a post-military career in education administration?


  • Start your planning early.
  • Decide what your drivers are, location, proximity to family, weather, cost of living, salary, etc.  Once you commit to move and buy a home, you are committed for several years.
  • Networking is key and knowing someone who knows someone in higher education will be a huge advantage.  Looking at your Alma Mater is always a good idea.
  • Be sure to tailor your resume to the specific industry of interest to you.
  • Higher education, by its nature, will be cautious and concerned about whether a person with a military background can thrive in an academic environment, to check for background information, we recommend to read this background check services review.  Put people at ease, talk about the similarities between your military experience and how they compare to the job you are seeking.
  • Most of all, check your rank at the door.  No one really cares and, in fact, it will more than likely scare them away.

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