So you’ve successfully transitioned! You’re a veteran who has exited the military without drama, conducted the ideal job search, and made it to a civilian company that you like.
It pays enough, is in the right area of the country and utilizes your previous experience (or has trained you in a different type of work, whichever you prefer). But if you think your job search is over, take a look at the following reasons why a continuous job search is the best way to grow your civilian career:
Job transfer is the fastest way up the ladder. Most companies provide around a 2-percent pay raise a year to cover inflation and cost-of-living increases. However, a job transfer can result in a much better pay raise – 5 percent and higher. Also, many companies would rather hire someone with leadership experience for supervisory and/or managerial positions rather than take a chance on a current employee, who may not succeed or have trouble assuming a leadership role over former peers.
Loyalty is not as rewarding as it used to be. Veterans often put a higher premium on company loyalty than civilians. This is no doubt partially due to the military virtue of loyalty, which each service member learns in basic training. There’s also an understanding in the military that if you do a decent job and all the right things, the military will take care of you. If you don’t make sergeant major, chief, or general, at least you will be honorably discharged with severance pay – and you’ll know about it early enough that you can figure out what to do next.
But in the civilian world, that’s fairly old-fashioned. Current CEOs and company presidents remember a time, perhaps, when a high-school graduate went to work for a company, rose steadily in seniority and pay scale for 40 years, and then retired with a gold watch and a pension. But nowadays, job-hopping is common. The average length of stay in a job is around five years, often much less for younger workers (those in their 20s and 30s). So while it may be tempting to hope that your job will treat you as loyally as the military did, the reality is that if you stay too long in one job, you may end up being passed over for more mobile candidates.
You will hit job experience wickets faster than your civilian counterparts. When you leave the military, you have a great deal of professional experience. You can claim you’ve worked a steady, difficult job for at least three years. And if your job search is related to your military specialty (e.g. a job in IT if you were a communications specialist), then you can present technical experience as well. Unfortunately, civilian employers don’t always know what to do with military experience. The civilian structure of certifications and qualifications doesn’t always line up with military schools, and often the equipment is vastly different. Which is why you may find yourself starting at rock bottom.
However, after only a little time in the civilian sector, your whole resume changes: now you have all the great military experience you had before (which was attractive but hard to quantify), and additionally you have concrete civilian experience relevant to an employer’s technical needs. Your current job environment may have seniority rules preventing quick promotion… but a competitor company may suddenly regard you as a catch.
Keep your job-hunting skills (and documents) fresh. Many veterans (along with many civilians) regard their job search as a concrete goal. They prepare detailed resumes, do exhaustive research and practice interviews. Then, when they have their next job, they put all that work out of mind and move on to other things. Only problem? With that approach, you may lose your next big opportunity. There are jobs everywhere: a company you visit and decide you like, a sudden hit on your LinkedIn account, a friend calling about a job that came open where he/she works. An updated (general) resume in your web-based email makes it possible for you to take advantage of fleeting opportunities that come your way.
The best way to do this is to job search continually, which is easiest online. Choosing to apply exclusively to jobs that pay more and expect more responsibility than your current job will guarantee that any acceptance you receive is a genuine opportunity, rather than something equivalent to what you’ve already got. If you feel nervous or disloyal by doing that, you can just update your LinkedIn profile (and your resume) weekly. Just remember, if somebody asks for a resume, your response should never be, “Can’t you check out my LinkedIn profile?” It should always be, “Here, I have it in my email. Where should I send it?”
It’s always good to have a backup plan. The recession may be over, but you may still have to leave your job. If your company has union employees, or works on a seniority system, you may be the first one cut loose during a lay-off because you were the latest hired. Lay-offs are just as likely in office-type jobs, though usually they result from some type of reorganization. You may also have to leave for another reason, such as a personality conflict with a boss or just that you don’t like your work. In any case, the time to start a new job search is not after you’ve hit the street with your box of desk accoutrements in hand; it’s when you first get word that you might be on the chopping block.