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Planning a Career Search

How to start your planning . . .

Plan for career transition as you plan for financial transition: begin immediately and work at it continuously. This way, you will be prepared to approach a new career on a glidepath, rather than a leap from a cliff.

The first step is to develop your objective. This can be like developing a thesis when you write a paper: It is the idea you will attempt to validate as you conduct your search. Define your objective as a career field and a location. Your objective (or objectives) will evolve over time, as you learn about careers, explore your interests, and adapt to your changing personal situation and the hiring environment, but it should begin with the question, "What am I capable of doing in the locations that interest me?"

How to organize the phases of your search . . .

Try to give yourself two years to plan, conduct, and complete a career transition and divide them into these broad phases:

First year: Investigate career fields and positions that interest you. If necessary, sharpen your expertise, obtain certifications, join professional associations, draft résumés and cover letters, and begin to build and activate your network.

End of first year: Refine your résumé, alert your network to your specific interests and availability date, request information interviews, and continue to research industries and target specific employers.

Six months before your availability date: Increase your information interviews, apply for open positions, target and correspond directly with selected employers (if applicable), notify executive recruiters who specialize in your area of expertise, seek hiring interviews, and continue to network and to develop leads until you have accepted an offer.

Finding your niche in the civilian world . . .

Functionally, civilian organizations resemble military organizations more than they differ. One or more management levels typically exist. All organizations have staff functions such as human resources support, external and internal communications, treasury and finance, logistics, facilities maintenance, and operations. In addition, all organizations have interface elements, which interact with customers, clients, constituents, partners, and users.

Here is one listing of basic business functions. If you can identify two or three functions that interest you, you are on the way to identifying your target career fields.

  • Analyze, investigate, or study systems, phenomena, and situations
  • Sell products or services
  • Source--purchasing, buying, acquiring materials, products, services for further sale for use in manufacturing, etc.
  • Manage an operation--system, product development, manufacturing line, customer service, transportation, professional service program, warehousing, etc.
  • Market products or services
  • Make something with your hands (artistic or practical)
  • Perform labor or operate equipment
  • Perform or entertain
  • Analyze and manage finances and accounting
  • Manage human resource support systems
  • Provide information--teach, write, advise, counsel, or coach
  • Push troops--supervise line employees
  • Recruit employees or students
  • Engineer and design systems and things
  • General management--responsible for all of the above within a business unit

Gathering Intel . . .

  1. Investigate career fields by talking with friends in that line of work. Find out what certifications, degrees, and credentials they have. Ask about the daily routine, the opportunities for personal advancement, etc. If you have time to do so, consider joining professional societies and subscribing to professional journals in the fields you are investigating. Start to build a network of contacts in the career field. If you are in a position to do so, you might even do some volunteer work connected to the career field.
  2. Read job advertisements posted on corporate web sites to understand the qualifications you will need. Most of these descriptions are carefully crafted. For the most part, the requirements will tell you what your chances are of competing successfully for a position. Do not underestimate the technical aspects of various careers. Even though many of your military skills will be clearly transferable into the civilian arena, realize that civilian employers value industry experience just as much as an Infantry battalion commanders would probably prefer his company commanders who have been rifle platoon leaders over captains schooled in another branch. In an employer’s hiring market, expect to have a lot of competition from “experienced candidates.” If you do this research, you will find less surprises during your actual transition and you will not waste time seeking positions that are long shots.
  3. Develop your search to the point where you can name the specific position by title, for which you would like to apply. If you think you can compete for such a position, prepare to describe your qualifications and develop an approach to doing the job by relating your capabilities to the employer’s bottom line. The tailored resume is the first step in doing this.

Further reading . . .