Sunday, January 30, 2011

#5: Accomplishments

I worked with more than one junior military officer recruiter when I was looking for employment about ten years ago, and one in particular did right by me with one simple piece of advice.   During the period when my representative was working with me on my resume, he pointed out that I was trying to tell the wrong story about my accomplishments.

This revelation threw me off a bit, because I had been, after all, a successful weapons platoon commander of a rifle company, with collateral duties as the embark and ordnance officer, and had been hand-picked to move on a more senior billet after a deployment to Okinawa.  I had a good billet progression and laid out my accomplishments under these billets in my resume.  On my first cuts at a resume, I had annotated the fact that I had successfully embarked and move a company's worth of individual weapons and personal equipment, where nothing had been lost, from California to Okinawa.  I also detailed my routine responsibilities for several millions of dollars of equipment assigned to the company.  I had done my duty in a "highly professional manner that contributed to the company's successful mission accomplishment and well-being of its Marines and Sailors."

Sound like an award citation?  Yeah, it is.  Right out of my award received after that Okinawa employment.  The problem is that although it reads well and says all the right things among military professionals, it doesn't tell a prospective employer the most important thing they want to know about you: What demonstrates that you can save the company money, time, or otherwise improve on its internal processes, and thus contribute to its bottom line in a positive way.

My first recruiter put it to me in an interesting way, and in a flash it all made sense that I had been looking at my resume the wrong way.  It was great that no weapons had become lost during the periods of embarkation to Okinawa, but I wasn't supposed to lose any weapons, so there wasn't anything notable about that fact and it didn't need to be on the resume.  What I needed to do, he explained, was look back on my military experience and analyze it to extract those times when I had changed a process to achieve greater efficiency, had accomplished a task while husbanding scant resources, or otherwise contributed to the unit's bottom line.

Highlighting bullets that spoke to these abilities was difficult at first, because we rarely measure success in the same ways that the corporate world might, but the recruiter coached me through a few ways to look at the issue from a different angle.  This was one of the few occasions in my first post-military job search where a junior military officer recruiter proved beneficial to my job search.

There are several bottom lines in the military that you could back on which can correlate to an accomplishment a corporate employer could find attractive.  Implementing safety and risk management principles to effectively reduce mishaps, and time lost due to injuries, can translate to an ability to save money for a company through reduced workman's compensation.  So does modifying work practices to be more efficient with fewer man hours involved.  And the same can be true if you identify how you made a process more productive.  You could even highlight how you might have instituted physical training or individual development programs that raised the overall PT scores of your troops, or were part of multiple meritorious promotions that your subordinates achieved.

I know it may seem difficult, because we simply do not think of our value as officers in this way, and although our billet accomplishments involve an often arduous, life-threatening existence, the corporate bottom line is just different, but your resume has to tell the right story.  Sometimes, that means taking the spotlight off of you, and putting it on the most important component of our modern military; the people who worked with and for you, and went into harm's way beside you.  How well they performed, if framed in the right context, can tell a lot about you.  The key phrases that make up your personnel evaluation file, or a few awards received along the way, will rarely fit properly into a powerful resume until you think about it from the corporate employer's point of view.

Monday, January 17, 2011

#4: Phases

Going into this rule, I thought at length about the best way to cover it, but it comes down, in my mind, to a simple reading of the current version of Knock 'Em Dead, from front to back.

When I get a perplexing question from my wife about how something operates, I often sarcastically reply, "Take a peek at the instruction manual...It will tell you secrets."  As you've probably read in other posts here, I am a huge fan of the KED book, because it covers just about everything there is you will need to do in order to land a job.  I've also made the point several times over that you need to read it from front to back, because just like reading the frequently asked questions section of a website, a lot of your questions will be answered once you invest the time to look.

This will be a short post for no other reason than the fact that you need to buy the book, read it, and then follow it.  Doing so will allow you to transition through the resume, interview, and salary negotiations rather easily.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

#3: The length and scope of your campaign

Well, there's no rocket science involved here folks.  It plain out takes a long time to find a job for most people, and certainly takes time to find one that matches what want to do in terms of employment.  The job is very rarely going to find you, so just as you might prepare for the mission that takes you downrange and you conduct some pre-combat checks and inspections, you should do the same on yourself.

It is important to organize your campaign into easily referenced areas.  You might purchase a binder that allows you to organize your notes, resume samples and cover letters, and response letters from employers.  If your campaign is going to take you across varied terrain, and involve headhunters, a large group of network contacts, and expenses incurred from attending training, interviews, and such, you might need to buy a bigger organizer or segregate the materials into smaller organizers.

The PDAs of my day when I first got out aren't what they are today, and if you have any of the various smartphones, you'll be able to stay more organized with little effort.

If you bought a copy of Knock 'Em Dead (KED) 2010 like I recommend, you need to dedicate time to reading it from front to back, and following the guidance within its pages.  There are no shortcuts in this business of finding a job, and though you might think that pre-formatted resumes and templates will save time, I have found (as I do with all correspondence) that writing a resume from scratch will take you through a more deliberate and critical process.  This in turn should allow you to get it into the style and flow that you want the first time around, and preclude a lot of editing.

And don't plan on your first couple of shots at a resume allowing you to call it a day.  You will need to put it down, walk away from it for a few days, and come back for a close review.  You'll need to let others read it, read it aloud to yourself, and yes, maybe even to your dog or cat.  All this takes time, so plan your campaign around these facts.  I would say that in order to realistically produce a tailored resume that will satisfy most of the basic rules from KED, it will take two weeks, assuming you are still going to your job on a daily basis and only have weekends and weeknights to apply to the work.  Add in the need to draft a tailored cover letter for each job listing that you are after, and you start to accumulate more time.

The good news if that you are starting the effort at least six months to a full year out from your end of service, you are in good shape.  Many larger companies will not even seriously consider you as a bona fide applicant until a minimum of six months away from the day you begin terminal leave.  Some are looking at prospects who are no more than 90 days away.  Don't let time creep up on you though.  If you are accustomed to an established workout routine and track your accomplishments, this will be easy, but you should chart a minimum of a weekly plan and then record what you actually did towards your job hunt.

There are a number of research and organization software tools out there that can be used to assist you.  I can't recommend any one in particular, as I haven't tried too many.  MS OneNote is, however, one application that I have used (it was bundled with my issued laptop when last deployed) and it allows you to do a lot through a fairly simple interface.  I have probably only tapped into 25% of its potential.  Download the trial version and give it a go.

Okay, I'll close this here.  Remember to comment on what you want to see discussed, or what elements of a rule or two need elaboration.

Friday, January 14, 2011


While cruising around to answer a question I had for myself in the previous post, I ran across this blog that is associated with a consultancy run by an applied behavioral scientist.  her focus is on assisting companies hire and retain veterans.

I only had the chance to briefly browse the blog, but there are some interesting insights you might be interested in.  I recommend exploring the entire site.  Her storefront is aimed at the company that wants to hire a veteran, or deal with matters concerning veterans in its workforce, and of course there are consulting fees she is charging for her services.  A few links on her resources page, as well as the blog, have valuable information that you can still apply to your job hunt and use to your advantage.

See more here: Military Transition Blog

#1: So what are you worth?

As you begin to look ahead at the beginning of your campaign, the basic question of what you are worth should come up immediately., even if you cannot answer it right away.  One of the best pieces of advice came from a civilian co-worker when I was stationed in Orlando and working at a detachment responsible for training and simulations work.

Rick explained to me in very simple terms that he noticed a lot of junior officers would think of their value in linear terms.  Some of them, he would chuckle, used to look at their leave and earnings statement, write down the yearly base pay  figure on it, and start a job search with that figure in mind.  They'd home in on job postings either in the paper or online that matched their base salary, and figure that the job would be a good fit for them as well.  Too often, Rick observed, the rest of the details of the job (which were usually lower-level management and sales jobs) often went ignored or glossed over.  In the officer's mind, the money was the key to finding the fit, and they assumed that if they could find X job that paid the same as their yearly base pay, things would be golden.

The problem with this sort of analysis, as Rick carefully laid out, was that life in the military and life on the outside are two totally separate things when it comes to how far the dollar goes.  Serving in the armed forces affords you allowances for housing and subsistence, commissary privileges, access to free medical care for you and often cheaper medical care for your spouse, life insurance that is ridiculously cheap, pretty much every federal holiday off from work unless you are deployed or standing duty, and a substantial chunk of available annual leave, tuition assistance and GI Bill benefits, reduced prices for family entertainment, Space-A travel, some of the best fitness centers imaginable, and a number of other benefits that simply do not exist in the civilian sector.

Is it possible to put a price tag of what those benefits are worth?  In some cases, you absolutely can, like the simple differences in a load of groceries my wife purchases from the commissary versus the local Ralph's or Albertsons.  In terms of life insurance coverage, it's possible to shop and compare the results against what you afforded access to under the terms of SGLI.  Medical care gets real easy when you compare free to a standard package from Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

The point to all this is that when you evaluate yourself and what you think your earning potential should be in terms of work experience, training, etc., you need to sit back for a moment and consider what quality of life you want once you hit about the 90 day mark after your end of service.  If you want it to be comparable to what you have now, then you need to find one of those forms that you received within the past year and take a hard look at it (for Marines, there is a tab on your MOL personal info screen that lays out your direct and indirect compensation).  All things considered, the $$$ figure of that form is pretty close to the number you should be thinking about when you begin looking for a job.  More importantly, when you get further along in your campaign and enter into salary negotiation (which you cannot do in the military), there is nothing wrong with going into it seeking to receive the highest salary possible.  It may seem a little shocking when that figure is substantially higher than what your base pay is now, but that's okay, it shocked me a little bit too and made me a little giddy that they were willing to offer me that much.  What I had a hard time remembering at the outset was that for the position my company was hiring me, the salary was comparable to that for other managers with similar responsibilities, and for the area of employment.  It couldn't compare directly to what I had previously earned in the military, and so I had to approach the negotiations with the mindset that I had to conduct a lot of research and understand the forces at work, go for what I could reasonably request, and negotiate with the recognition that what I used to earn and hat I needed to earn would be significantly different numbers.  A pretty dry but somewhat informative article from the Congressional Budget Office that talks about military compensation can be found here:

The junior officer head hunters that I had started out with at the time were offering me nibbles at jobs that ranged from $20-30,000 less than what I finally ended getting paid at the job I took at the very end of my campaign.  I did not jump at the first job offer, but rather continued my aggressive campaign, and while not stringing John Deere along, explained to them that I was still entertaining possibilities.  I had thought through the compensation piece enough to realize that signing on with John Deere would actually mean I'd take a pay cut somewhere in the range of $15,000, and although the compensation package was in fact pretty handsome considering other employment opportunities in Dubuque, Iowa, it wasn't what I was worth.

Turning down a job offer is going to take a lot of discipline and resolve, but the good thing about a securing a job offer is the fact that you can probably do it again with a stronger company, in the region you prefer, and for better money.  The key is to never let the headhunters undervalue you.  You'll understand the importance of beating the head hunters at their own game in future posts.

Please comment on what you've seen so far with this blog, and give me some rudder steer on topics or insight that you would like to hear more on, if you don't see it being discussed in either the rules of the campaign, or my more detailed posts.

Also, if you'd like to hear from a guest blogger who has recently completed his campaign and is now working for a pharmaceutical company in sales, comment on that also and I'll try to have him swing by to discuss the advice I gave him, and how it worked out, and his recommendations.

Remember rule #3 and do something about the next phase of your life today (and no, reading this blog doesn't quite count)!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

#2: I couldn't really get into #1 yet...

So I decided to get into a discussion of rule #2, getting over the decision to leave the military and try to move into something else.  Rule #2 in fact was rule #1 when I originally drafted the list, but something didn't sit right with me about that one kicking off things.  Some folks might simply visit the blog with little to no intention of leaving the military, so I wanted the first rule to highlight the importance of just how much we are actually worth in terms of our training, experience, and other skills.  Because that is important, discussing it is going to take a little more thought than I had planned, but I want to keep this blog moving along.

So, you decided that you want to leave the military and try something else.  Was it a tough decision, ridden with doubt and a bit of self-pity?  Did it almost feel that as much as you are making the decision for the right reasons, there is this bitter taste in your mouth about it, because you know you could excel and climb up the ranks, getting more proficient every day?  Is there a bit of worry that nags at you, over what your peers might think as you decide to move on?  I had those exact feelings when I fist entertained the thoughts of getting out almost eleven years ago.

I had a lot of other feelings too, like concerns over how I was going to feed, clothe, and shelter my family, and whether I was in fact making the right decision in light of everything I had done to get to that point in my career.  Any time spent in the military creates this emotional investment that begins the day you first step off the bus at boot camp, or hit forming day at Officer Candidate School.  You add to that investment during all of the significant emotional events you experience, through the friends you lose, and from the places and people you have seen.

There's nothing wrong with having these feelings, but you can't let them ride your back during your transition.  You will have to confront them head on at the very outset of your campaign, find a way to make peace with what you are about to do, and then quickly get over it and move on.  Dwelling on the decision only hampers your ability to move forward and apply your energy to the efforts laid out in some of the other rules.

Do whatever it takes, whether it requires talking to a therapist, calling your mother, or talking to your faithful dog, but lock it up quickly and move on.  It's like that saying that I would always hear the range coaches offer, "DOn't worry about that's already downrange and you can't take it back.  Focus on the next one."  That is what you need to do.  Focus on what it will take to follow the other rules of your campaign, meet your goals, and succeed in a very challenging endeavor, during challenging economic times.

I did not settle my score with my emotions when I started my transition years ago, and it took me a while to realize how it was affecting me, until one day I stepped back from the computer, put down my notepad, and whispered, You are going to be fine.  You just spent the last seven years doing some incredibly difficult things in amazing places, and around people who sometimes wanted to kill you, and here you are wringing your hands about the next move...Stop worrying.

If you have a significant other and you are not including them in the decision-making process, you definitely need to see a therapist, because that's just flat out crazy.  Without their participation, you are guaranteeing a painful transition, where doubt will creep in at the worse times, and typically when you need to have your A game on so you can tackle an interview, or a test, and perhaps even a salary negotiation.  Most importantly, be honest during any and all discussions with that significant other, because they will be the ultimate BS meter and call you on it down the road, when you least need the distraction.  As you work together to move forward, you'll find that it's easier to do the heavy lifting with two sets of shoulders to carry the emotional load, rather than just one.  I'll tell you in a future post or two why I decided to rejoin the military, and you'll see where a failure to be honest with myself, and include my spouse, led me down the wrong path at a time where I thought I was making the right choice.

But for you, make up your mind and get started!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Inaugural Post

At the behest of a few Marine officers I associate with, and who are contemplating leaving the Corps to seek employment in the civilian sector, I am committing my lessons learned to a blog.  Depending on the suitability, I may merge in lessons learned from my pending retirement and job hunt as posts here, rather than spend the time updating two blogs concurrently.  Either way, this blog is designed to assist the military officer who is about to leave the military after completing honorable service.  In most cases, and certainly for the junior officers who have only held one significant job - the military - it can be a daunting experience.  I hope, through this blog, to aid in reducing the stress, wasted effort, and confusion inherent in the transition from green to gray.

In this first post, I want to lay out ten basic rules that serve as a foundation for the junior officer's job search.  These rules are not necessarily original thought, and may be an amalgam of different, but related concepts that I have read either during my first transition period, or the intervening years when I have helped young officers and they prepared to leave the military.  I left the Marines ten years ago and had a short break in service, and some of these rules are hard-learned lessons when I was in the hunt for a job myself.

I will go into further detail about each of these rules in subsequent posts.  If you find the material here relevant and helpful, please comment.  If you take issue with the content and think you have a better way, please comment in that regard as well.  Collectively, this blog can serve as a resource for everyone.

And here we go:

#1 Do not undervalue, and in turn, undersell yourself.  Remember those forms that show up yearly and describe the total value of your base pay, special allowances, and various privileges like medical coverage and cheap life insurance?  They are pretty  much on the money, so don't think of your earning potential solely by using your base pay as the frame of reference.

#2 Decide why you are getting out in the first place, and make peace with that decision.

#3 Finding a job is a job in itself.  Get organized for the work ahead.  Dedicate a portion of every day to the task, whether it is tweaking your resume, browsing online job listings, or practicing interview responses.  The practice, and the polished product that results, will outshine your competitors who have not dedicated the same amount of effort to their campaign.

#4 The resume and cover letter get you in the door, the interview gets you the job, and the salary negotiation gets you the compensation you deserve.  Have a strategy for each phase of your campaign.  They need to be treated as distinct and separate, yet interwoven, and you need to set the conditions for a transition from one phase to the next, have branch plans, and be ready for if a sequel takes you down a totally different path than you thought possible.

#5 Dispense with thinking that your accomplishments in the military are understood or sought after in quite the same way as the civilian sector.  As officers, we measure our accomplishments in ways that emphasis creativity, confidence and calm under pressure, command presence, and a variety of other qualities.  Unfortunately, we often tend to frame our billet accomplishments in terms of doing our job the way it was supposed to be done, but the rest of the business world does not.  While these accomplishments are notable and make us desirable to future employers to some degree, employers do not measure these traits on anywhere near the same scale that we might within the military.  As long as we recognize these facts, we can actually harness the knowledge to our benefit.

#6 Invest in a good reference to assist you in the quest for a job.  Read it from front to back, then read it gain until it sinks in.  "Knock 'Em Dead 2010: The Ultimate Job Search Guide" is the best reference I found over ten years ago, and it remains, dollar for dollar, the best tool out there.  It covers everything you need to know and do to handle the first phase of your campaign, and even goes further and provides guidance on the interview and salary negotiation phases.

#7 Junior officer headhunters can serve a purpose, but remember that they have a bottom line and their interests might not square with yours.  They need to convince you why you should let them manage your career and use you to put food on their dinner table.  It all goes back to rule #1.  Make them earn their commission.

#8 Your job search will likely be a lengthy process, and although you should start your campaign approximately one year out, you will be hitting your strides at the six and three month mark.  Organize your leave to support that.  As best you can, organize your billet responsibilities to support each phase as well.  You cannot wait until you are on terminal leave before you start taking care of yourself.  You may need to end your service, move to the area where you want to work, and resume the hunt from there.  

#9 If it looks like sales and smells like sales, it's probably sales.  Recognize your dream job for what it is (perhaps hard to obtain), but also realize that there may be fields you had not considered before that fit what you want to do. Network with folks who got out that you know, peers who are getting out along with you, even your school's alumni association.  Networking remains a valuable tool.

#10 Your job search is going to be expensive.  Start saving towards your campaign now, and keep saving.  If you are making mad money in a deployed environment, save as much of it as you can.  You may need to live off of it for some time and being able to live off of savings for six months to a year may make the difference while you are looking for the job that fits what you want to do, and in the area that suits you.