Saturday, February 19, 2011

#10: The cost of finding a job

I was fairly fortunate during the job search time about ten years ago, as the companies I interviewed with (outside of the Houston headhunter seminar) either flew me to them, or came to me in order to conduct the interview.

My only outlays were the trip to Houston, and a drive and overnight stay at a MicroTel when I stopped by the two headhunters's offices in Atlanta.  Expect that your will be considerably greater, considering the state of the economy and the cost-cutting measures companies are putting in place.

If you are like me and you have been deploying, you should have a certain chunk of money socked away.  If you are pending a deployment, you have the opportunity to sock a lot of cash away, so do it.

The biggest outlay you can expect to endure will be the travel expenses from attending job fairs, conferences, and (unless you are flown in by the company) flying to the geographic area where the company wants to interview you.  Multiply this across five, ten, or fifteen sorties to sit down and interview with a prospective employer, and you can guess what the total is going to come to over a very short period of time.

You may, in fact, need to save on top of these efforts in order to put more money away for other needs.  Like the 5 February post mentioned, you might need to hit your EAS, relocate (without a job in hand) and begin the search anew in the area where you think you want to settle down.  All this takes a chunk of funds.  If you are married, you will really need to sit down with your significant other and work out a budget for these outlays, so everything is above board and the both of you can understand the way ahead.  Failing to do so is only going to cause aggravation for the both of you, at a time that is already stressful.

There's not much more to add beyond this folks.  Expect your campaign to come at a cost.  Prepare for it.

And enjoy some Foo Fighters:

Thursday, February 17, 2011

#9: Dream job, or crazy idea?

JMOs are going to be optimized for a certain range of jobs, so when you start your campaign towards securing one, don't be surprised if the same ones continue to turn up over and over.  While working with one of the JMO headhunter companies, it seemed as though he was deliberately referencing sales jobs for me, despite the fact that I did not want to explore that route (this speaks a bit to the motivations recruiters operate under in earlier posts)

It was almost comical on a couple of occasions.  The discussion went a bit like this:

"We have a few positions we think you might be interested in, working in regional areas close to you."

"I take it they are either service rep positions or something like sales (rolling eyes)."

"This is what the industry calls inside sales.  You aren't making any cold calls.  And these companies have already purchased the product..."

"Sounds exactly like sales, but with a slight twist."

'Well, you're not giving me much to work with right now, and this limits you..."

I had no problem being limited by not looking at sales positions as possibilities, because I simply did not want to do that at that point in my life.  I worked in sales as a teenager, and learned to dislike the rules that world lives by.  I in turn put my foot down and refused to discuss the various positions that cropped up a few times.

Did I shoot myself in that same foot?  I don't think so, because I felt pretty comfortable that I did not want to work on a commission based scale, subject to the at times helter skelter nature of market forces.  There can be tremendous gain found in sales positions, no doubt, but I just was not interested in doing what needed to be done to succeed.  Your experience, personality, and desires for financial gain may differ, so analyze those aspects and if you want to go that route, bravo!

I have a very close friend who secured his first post-JMO job at GE, working sales of industrial lighting solutions.  He has had a few other jobs in sales since then, and is now working communications solutions for mostly government contracts, and he seems to enjoy what he does.  He was open to the sales construct, and has done well with it, so I am not anti-sales.  I just think the JMO about to leave the military will still be hit with a barrage of job openings that are sales oriented.

On the note if networking, the guest poster from 5 February confirmed what I knew to be true back over ten years ago.  Networking will expand your knowledge of the various fields and jobs out there that a JMO likely knows very little about, since the intervening time between college/commissioning and the present may not have offered many opportunities to stay current with trends in their field of study in college, or their area of interest.  Go to that post to learn a few techniques he mentions that can assist you in developing a base of knowledge of the field that does interest you.  It seems you could be surprised at what happens as a result.

I'll also offer that the Internet has expanded the power an individual holds in this regard a thousand-fold.  There are a multitude of forums, groups, and even Facebook pages where you could rub elbows with people who are already in the profession you are looking to enter.  Taking their opinions with a grain of salt, you can still tell pull out a few details about the field that you might not have heard about before.  

Think of it as the ultimate career day you first experienced in elementary school.  This is where you can break away from the mold of the mundane that the JMO recruiter might have to offer, and get into the field you dream of as the perfect fit for your lifestyle, interests, and personality.  It's not crazy at all, but it will probably require a substantial investment in time to get into that field if you don't have professional credibility already established.  

There is a certain degree of never-say-never to it all though, as I know a computer animation professional who has worked on such hits as Speed Racer, who served as a Civil Affairs Soldier and was self-taught to some degree.  Same for a Marine LtCol I know who broke into computer network security after a few courses, and a self-study.  Although they embarked on a personal campaign to get to where they wanted to be, and took substantial risks along the way, they seem happy and content.

For today's music selection, here are a few live songs from a Gorillaz Demon Days Live 2006 performance at the Manchester Opera House.  A little moto and a little mellow.  Enjoy.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

#8: Timelines

A good number of officers contemplating the next move will wonder when they should start their campaign.  Although there isn't a black and white answer, the general wisdom among headhunters trends around six month from the end of service.  I've been told in the past that the reason for this stems from the fact that most employers have hiring needs that run in similar cycles, and that six months is about the furthest out a company will submit a hiring offer to a prospect.

For situations where a smaller company is looking for a hot fill and has concurrently posted notices of job hunt websites and even the larger local newspapers, six months (or even 60 days for that matter) are probably going to represent an unacceptable wait for a new hire to come on board.  They need positions filled quickly in order to resume the forward track of their business model.  Large corporations with executive development programs will have the ability to endure the longer lead time between salary negotiation and your first day.

Regardless of whether you are looking at a short window between starting your search, or a more lengthy process that begins slowly and gains momentum, you will need to organize your current work responsibilities to efficiently employ your available terminal leave, any permissive temporary additional duty available for your circumstances, and other supporting fires (like leave granted to attend headhunter conferences, take hiring examinations for Federal employment, etc.).  If nothing else, there is a lot of preparation on the front end that you need to knock out before you start the actual process of submitting resumes and interviewing.  It would not be prudent to take on every little project possible, or suddenly decide that it's time to take a huge dose of initiative and dream up the next new and great pre-deployment training plan that you need to implement and supervise.  Where appropriate, do your best to spread responsibilities out along traditional lines, and achieve balance.

This is not to say that you should go on a pseudo-"ROADs" (retired on active duty) program and totally divorce yourself from your military responsibilities for the sake of the job search, because that will get you hemmed up pretty quickly and never endear you to your boss.

Settling on a style of resume and fine-tuning the material in it can take a considerable amount of time, time that needs to be set aside well before you are faced with the prospect of leaving the military in the next 90 days.  I have heard and read a lot of advice that puts the best time to start it all at the 12 month mark.  Looking at the process, it only make sense.  The first six months can be spent networking with contacts in the desired field, reading up on resources that detail who to craft a resume, cover letter (if required), and start moving them out the door.  There is also the business of conducting basic research about the type of job you want, the field it is in, the range of salaries available based on location, and a multitude of other factors that can make the difference between simply getting a job after the military, and embarking on a new life that you will enjoy and prosper in.

The effort of conducting this research takes time, and if you don't want you current military responsibilities to slip, you need to pace these tasks across a reasonable amount of time.  Right now, although I am at least 18 months out from retiring, I am conducting research in fields that have always interested me, and am compiling this information so that I don't have to go on a research binge when it begins to get down to the wire.

You should take stock of your current leave balance, the rules applicable for how much you can maintain on the books per fiscal year, and begin to think about whether you intend to use that as terminal leave (pending the appropriate approval from your chain of command of course), allowing you to begin work while still drawing pay and entitlements until your EAS date, or do you want to sell that unused leave back and pocket the money (keep in mind that there are different tax rates to leave when it is sold back).  Take stock of the situation well in advance, and make your decision based on what fits your scenario and needs.

Although I don't have any data to back this up, you might also want to consider the time of year when you begin putting your resumes out and consider yourself available.  The time after typical college graduation has to be a terribly busy time for human resources reps, and it may make it more difficult for you if they are wading through tons of unsolicited resumes from every bright-eyed graduate.  Use of a headhunter would circumvent this issue, because you are competing against a different pool of applicants.

On another more practical note, I've been wringing my hands over what sort of advice to give to the junior officer who intends to EAS, but still has time on contract where he expected to work hard, produce results, and be otherwise as effective a leader and manager as he has for all the previous months.

Should you accept that company executive officer's billet that is offered, knowing that you intend to separate within a few months to a year?  One side of me would argue that a move from a rifle platoon commander slot up to XO would mark the sort of upward promotion and climb that an employer would expect to see, and if you are using a headhunter, your competition may have that statistic in their background.

The other side of me believes that you can be more effective in your transition, unless you have a job your uncle lined up for you at the plant, in a billet that doesn't have the same degree of responsibility as one like an executive officer.  Within my old unit, I saw JMOs who were about to get out, and who had made that fact known, who were still offered an XO job and took it.  Our guest poster from the 5 Feb post did just that, for a while, before he was replaced through an internal shuffle of company commanders and moved to the Operations Section.

There were other JMOs (at the end of a different deployment) who completed the deploy with no drama, but ended up in the Ops shop because it was known they intended to EAS.  As the XO slots were looked at and filled for the next deployment, the plans of these lieutenants were taken into account and they were slated appropriately.  I would like to think that serving as a special projects officer in the S-3 may allow them to conduct some better preparation for their life after the Marine Corps.  I'll look to hit them up as they get closer to the time, and ask them their thoughts.

And now for a dose of Gorillaz - Dirty Harry.  The personnel carrier in the clip reminds me of the M-ATV I commanded during the last deploy.  I miss that buggy.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A few articles of note...

While drifting around on another transition forum, I came across these links to recent articles that most of you will find worthwhile.
Warriors in the Workplace (CNN)
Battle Tested (CNN)
The New Warrior Elite (CNN)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Post your updates, pros and cons, and insights on Facebook

I set up a parallel Facebook account to support this blog and allow for folks to provide timely input from their personal experiences.

Look it up at Transition Campaign and send a friend request.

#7: The Junior Military Officer headhunters - * We need your personal experiences with them!!!

Ah yes, the JMO headhunter/recruiter, notorious and famous (depending on the source) for either wedging JMOs into jobs they did not want feel to motivated about in the first place, or securing that power job the JMO absolutely had to have, in exactly the area they wanted to be in, and for a sweet salary that makes them the envy of their friends.

I have been out of the business game for a bit, so I will have to freshen up on my information, but the headhunter tends to fall into the former category for a good many JMOs looking for a job.  There are a number of them out there, and it would be beyond the scope of this post to name them all and try to dissect their style of recruitment and marketing, but I can at least talk about my personal experience to serve as a frame of reference for a marginal and a not-so-good experience.  Hopefully, as this blog catches on, other JMOs who have been through the process will comment here and provide updates on the headhunter(s) they went through during their transition, and describe the pro's and cons.

The JMO headhunter outfits seem to fall into two categories: large volume with less hands-on work with you, and the smaller outfits with of course a smaller client base and opportunities.  Across the two outfits I worked with when I made a transition ten years ago, none of them had any not-for-profit opportunities available, and they all centered on a fairly predictable range of entry-level management, production supervision, and sales jobs.  That's not saying that they were bad, but let's face it, that dream job allowing you to showcase your talents with expository writing and critical thinking, design, or other artistic qualities, probably won't be found with a headhunter.

The headhunter process is fairly straightforward.  The company develops a client base of companies and corporations that desire to recruit JMOs to work for them in typically supervisory (but at the entry-level) positions, with responsibilities for a range of production outputs, or sales positions (either indoor our outdoor, as they call it at times).  There may be a random research analyst position thrown in here and there, but I don't recall them when I was in my campaign.

From that client base, the headhunter receives the requirements for the number of positions the company has open, as well as the hiring requirements for the individual jobs.  They in turn look at their pool of JMOs who have signed up for representation, and then try to make a match.  Once the JMO is hired on, the company receives the commission agreed upon by the client company.  If this all seems fairly straightforward, it isn't.  In fact, the headhunters themselves can use slightly shady marketing tricks at times to pull JMOs in and get them to use their "services" as opposed to another outfit.  Once you are on board, the various outfits can treat your transition with widely differing styles and techniques, and various results you may or may not like.  At the end of the day though, there is one truism, and that is you are not their client.  Just as a guest blogger has mentioned already, the company retaining the services of the headhunter is the client.  You are just one blip on the headhunter's corporate timeline, and may not enjoy the experience of a headhunter representative laboring to tailor a plan that suits your goals.  It is, after all, about money.  Time is money, and if you are taking up time then the amount of effort on their part is going to decrease, from what I have seen.

I'm not going to mention the names of the companies I was involved in at the moment, as I do not know if their practices are the same as what I experienced years ago, and I don't want to color anyone's decisions by mention of a name alone.  It's been years, and they may have changed their strategies wholesale for all I know.

My headhunter experience began with a large company with regional offices in all the big cities, and teams of recruiters who worked fairly aggressively in getting applicants hooked into their pipeline.  I had heard from other JMOs that their process was largely one involving long-distance contact (even though email was still something fairly new and a bit cumbersome at times), job fairs that brought HR reps from the client companies together, and a client base that ranged the standard brick and mortar companies traded on the stock markets, as well some privately held companies that were still large.  It relied on mass mailing to advertise, but word of mouth was still fairly strong and in their court.  Although they had a large client base, their throughput only allowed the recruiters to follow a basic model of getting the resume, touching it up a bit, and then working to find the opportunities to line the candidate up with the company. My recruiter had been a JMO just a couple of years prior, and we worked exclusively by remote means, except for one face-to-face visit when I stopped by the Atlanta office, and it was clear to me he was not comfortable with that sort of contact in the environs of his cubicle.  He was paid a small salary, supplemented by commissions from landing candidates for companies.

This company used a process involving large job fairs sponsored by the headhunter company, where candidates got all dressed up, piled into a location, and then had a chance to browse the HR booths of the client companies in attendance.  More often than not, your resume and cover letter would be dropped off, you might be able to chat with the HR rep about the opportunities at hand, and other contact information would be exchanged.  Job interviews did not uniformly occur, and often because every candidate at the fair was dropping off a resume!  Overall, that was not the route I wanted to go, so I worked with my recruiter and looked at a few breadcrumbs he had, but I did not invest too much time in that avenue.  Out of the blue though, near the tail end my campaign this headhunter landed a bigger nibble.  I was flown out to the Dubuque, IA plant to interview with John Deere for a $55K production supervision job, with heavy responsibility for safety management.  I got the job offered to me, but it was Dubuque for crying out loud, and being a fairly homogeneous place, it didn't suit the sort of life I wanted to start for my family.  I was fortunate, however, that the job I ultimately took fell into my lap through networking at the same time, and I had the luxury of turning down the offer.

The second outfit was a smaller setup regionally located in Atlanta, with a few offices in other eastern seaboard cities, but nothing north of Washington DC.  I became very interested in them due to their program.  They advertised a process where they took your resume, refined it to the point where you had effectively translated all that military stuff into something a HR rep could go off of, and then they brought you in (on your dime though) to one of their regional development seminars where they spent the first part of the week grooming you in job hunt skills, interviewing techniques, and other small group activities that I think better prepared all of the candidates, and then brought HR reps in during the last two days for interviews in their hotel rooms.

The best thing I got out of that company was the work my recruiter and I did in unscrewing my resume.  I had a lot of good stuff (or so I thought) that read like I was a badass in an personal award context, but it didn't tell the company anything about me and why they should hire me beyond my good looks.  I had come up with a concise and well-laid out format that followed a style from the Knock 'Em Dead book of that year, but the recruiter knew I could highlight more with substantive edits.  That's where he coached me to look at my time and my work as an interaction with a variety of processes.  This was a novel way to look at things, because as junior officers we don't see the military as a number of processes; they are though, when you sit back for a moment.  He wanted me to think about times where I had identified ways to improve the processes to save time in man hours, lower material costs, or increase productivity.  It was hard, but he gave excellent advice and insight into what a large company's HR department would be looking for, and I had not picked that up from the other headhunter or KED.

I remember going through an insane number of edits with that resume prior to the seminar in Houston, but in the end I believe they were all justified and beefed it up.  At the seminar, I gained a variety of new skills from the small group discussions, like making a point to drop the "sir" or "ma'am" when greeting the rep, and remembering to relax and avoid the left-hand-left-knee sort of posture I might revert to under stress.  I was also reminded that although the Corps might like intensity in action, words, and deeds, it could be a little unnerving to the rep to give them the "crazy eyes" during the interview.  Although they would enjoy seeing focus and sincere interest from the candidates, we all needed to bring it down a notch or two in terms of intensity.

The only thing that put me off about that headhunter was the fact that their client base had a lot of sales jobs, and I was nudged on more than one occasion to look at some of the sales positions, despite my flat out proclamation that I was not interested in sales in the least.

Across the two days, I think I interviewed with about seven companies, ranging to production line work in the central Florida area at pharmaceutical and check printing companies, to a production supervisor position in the Houston area for a homebuilding company.  None of the jobs really inspired me, and although I went on to a follow-up interview at the Orlando check printing plant, nothing panned out.

The biggest benefit gained from this headhunter was the resume and interview skills work.  Yes, I paid for airfare, rental car, and hotel room for the seminar. but it was a good investment.

Although I had one job offer and a few other serious nibbles as a result of my two headhunter experiences, the job I ultimately landed came as a result of networking with contacts at my Orlando duty station.  I had talked about my intention to leave the Corps, and an acquaintance saw an opportunity to line me up with a small business that was getting into the DoD contracting game after performing on a number of INS and VA contracts.  I ended up getting a painless interview, was able to negotiate my salary based on a few techniques I learned in a Karass Seminar I attended on the govt. dime, and landed the job.

I want to highlight that the strength of networking is what the guest blogging JMO from the 5 February post made mention of.  He provides excellent advice in that regard, and I recommend that everyone in their campaign should sit back and do some thinking about how to network themselves towards job opportunities.  It is a good way to supplement any work done with headhunters or cold interviews through the want ads.

One final point to this post and it is time to close.  With everything headhunter related, you have to remember that the recruiter is looking out after the client first and foremost, because lining a candidate up with that company puts food on their table.  Although they espouse a lot about integrity and principles in their work, it still boils down to money, and we all know what that can make a person do.  It's nothing malicious, but the guidance, advice, and coaching they provide might not be up to par with what you expect or want based on your career goals.  Don't be afraid to tell the recruiter that you simply are not interested in what they have to offer at the moment, and want to keep looking.  More importantly, start your campaign early enough so you can avoid becoming desperate for a job, causing you to hire on with a company that is less than optimal for what you want to do for a job, and in a location that is less than ideal as well.

If the recruiter's performance seems sub par to you based on what they advertise, ask for another recruiter to work with you.  Trust your instincts and judgment.  It could be that your recruiter is brand new, inefficient, or simply an idiot, so don't settle for poor effort and performance on their part.  Make them work for their commission and do what they say they are going to do.  Expect a little bit of car salesmanship along the way as well, but don't allow yourself to be patronized.  Again, it's not necessarily malicious, just the way they end up doing business.

Okay, get out there and work towards your goals.  Here's a dose of moto in that regard:

The lyrics don't have any connection to job hunting.  I just think that SSPU rocks.  If I ever became a superhero crime fighter, this would be my theme song.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

#6: Knock 'Em Dead 2010: The Ultimate Job Search Guide

This post is fairly straightforward and simple.  Buy the book.  Read said book from front to back and then again, making notes along the way.  Just like an instructions manual for a car, it will tell you secrets.  Follow the instructions and you will reduce a significant portion of the drama related to the format, content, and even mailing of your resume to potential employers.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

A former JMO from my unit checks in

I asked John to let me post his email reply up on the blog, since he and I spent some time discussing the Kock 'Em Dead book and other principles behind a job search.  I asked him whether that advice had served him well or not, and here is what he shot back with the following (I will add in right here that his closing statement reminds me to advise that the decision to get out needs to be thought over carefully):

It's been a while.  Hope you are well.  I would be happy to share my experience with you.  Our discussions proved to be very helpful.

Knock Em Dead was a great help. As a supplement I would also recommend "PCS to Corporate America" by Roger Cameron who runs Cameron Brooks Recruiting for JMO's.  The books describe very similar tactics, but are written in a different style.  PCS is more general than Knock Em Dead and they really complement each other well.  I would NOT however recommend using any headhunter unless it is a headhunter local to the area in which the JMO wants to live.  National headhunters can show a lot of opportunities but only to those who do not place a high emphasis on location.

Another key takeaway regarding headhunters: The JMO is the product NOT the Client.  The headhunter is interested in getting people hired so they get paid.  They are not interested in seeing candidates achieve the highest salary in their most desired position.  They are interested in getting paid which may mean convining the JMO to take a job they don't really want or certainly one that isn't the greatest fit.  That is not to say they don't have their place.  It is just to say that the JMO needs to fully understand the headhunter agenda.

There are a few important things that I recognize now in hindsight.  Former Marine Officers are viewed as the cream of the crop in the civilian hiring world.  Just by being a Marine you will get interviews for positions that aren't even created yet because people see us as an asset, even if they don't need us at the moment.  I am not saying you can go in and boff an interview and land a job.  I am simply saying that my experience showed me that while people typically look for a reason not to hire a normal candidate people immediately looked for a reason to hire me.  I don't attribute that to anything more than the fact that we are somewhat of a known quantity.  Employers knew I likely worked hard, was ethical and moral, and had been in far more stressful situations than most in the civilian world.  I definitely recall you and [the battalion commander] emphasizing this point and I think it really is true.  If you can tell these guys to be confident in where they came from it will go far.

I personally decided that I wanted to live specifically in Tampa, FL.  So, I moved there and started informational interviewing.  I simply met with people in different fields and tried to find something I was interested in.  I always went into those situations being prepared for it to turn into a job interview and often times it did.  You can meet a lot of people and see a lot of different career fields this way because employers feel no pressure in this scenario.  They are just there to talk about themselves and what they do.  Everyone loves to talk about themselves which leads to them being in a good mood and generally liking the person encouraging them to do so.  People who like you generally want to help you. So, I found this to be a great way to get connected to people they know who ARE hiring.

It took me a while to get used to the lack of follow-up in the corporate world.  If I was still Capt XXXX and you sent me an email at 7am you would expect a response by noon.  If I said I'd call you before the day was over you would expect to hear from me by about 3-4pm.  I got very used to this and I liked the reliability factor of the Marine Corps.  In the corporate world if you call someone on Monday you may not hear from them until Friday.  If you are looking for a job, you may never hear from them unless you follow-up.  There is fine line between being a nuisance and properly following up. Based on our training we [err]on the side of thinking people are blowing us off if we don't hear back.  That is usually not the case and it shows real dedication to conduct follow-ups properly.  Letting people know you are very interested never hurts your chances.  It took me a while to get used to that.

What is the JMO worth?  I remember you telling me that if I played my cards right and did enough interviewing, eventually I could talk my way into a nice salary.  You were right.  I found that by being very honest about my salary expectations I was able to achieve a first year income which superseded the standard guideline. While many people feel 
that the JMO is worth about 70-85K, that does not mean you can't negotiate for more.  When asked about income I said things like "the highest salary I ever achieved was about $85K (which is Captains pay when coupled with housing allowance) and much of that wasn't taxed" That automatically leads people to the $85K side of the spectrum and if they want to match your old salary they really need to come up even a bit more.

I guess if I had to say one final thing it would be that it is tough to line a job up before getting out.  Unless they want to live in Southern California they are going to have to move where they want to live and THEN get a job.  Just tell them not to be scared about the process because they will do well and people value our experience. The most important thing you told me was that simple fact and it ended up working out.

Hope all this helps.  You were right about one other thing.  I do miss the Marine Corps.  I am not sprinting to my local recruiter, but I miss the guys and I miss the level of responsibility I had as a young lieutenant.  Most people in the civilian workforce don't ever get there until they are in their 40's.  I made the right call for me without doubt but I do have fond memories of the Corps.  Tell them to expect that too!

Edited to add: About a week or two ago, John sent me a cc: to a reply he drafted in response to a headhunter's email.  The correspondence was aimed at telling him about a $55K opportunity that the recruiter had picked up on, and required a hot fill.  John tactfully pointed out that $55K was woefully lower than what a JMO could potentially garner with a little effort.  

I thought it a little discouraging that $55K was what I was offered for a production supervisor job when I was looking...about ten years ago.  Wow.