As we close out a year’s worth of career-building ideas shared in The MOAA Newsletter, I’d like to highlight some of the best nuggets we heard this year from the more than 2,000 MOAA members we worked with to accelerate their professional transitions and the 100-plus military-friendly employers who supported our career building events. I hope these lessons will get you to the top and help you stay there.
- Are you really a CEO? You might think the breadth of responsibility required to command a Navy ship or an Army brigade is similar to the skill set of a corporate CEO. Well, not so fast. Before adopting the title of CEO on your transition résumé, know that leading a large military organization is not equivalent to serving as a private sector CEO, where shareholder relations, union interactions, growing the stock price, and answering to a board of directors are essential elements of success.
- Do you always want to negotiate? There’s at least a 5% chance that choosing to negotiate a reasonable offer will result in the offer being rescinded. If you receive an offer from a company you know and trust, be respectful of your future employer’s concerns. What is the range for this position? Where do you fall within this range based on your skills? Have you ever done this job or a similar job before? The answers to these questions will help you understand when to negotiate and when to say “may I start tomorrow?”
- Are you considering all your options? Transitioning senior officers should be open to sales opportunities. Companies of all sizes are looking for people with some life experiences (and gray hair) to add gravitas to their customer-facing ranks. Former Secretary of Veterans Affairs Bob McDonald and Johnson and Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky are both former military officers who started their corporate careers as sales reps.
- Are you ready to work your way up? The universe of companies willing to hire a transitioning military officer with no private-sector experience for a six-figure-plus salary is very narrow. A company that pays you a little less initially but fits your experience, education, and passion may be the place where you’ll do some of your best work.
- Are your materials in order? As you prep for your first interview, remember your leave-behind documents. As a minimum these should include a copy of your updated résumé. These documents may also include a portfolio containing highlights of some of your best work, including press articles, conference reports, peer-reviewed articles, and presentations. One caution: Make sure no intellectual property from previous employers is inadvertently disclosed.
- Can you show you’ve made a difference? Continuing the interview theme, stress outcomes. Be prepared to discuss what would not have happened in your last role without your direct engagement. A great idea is only as strong as the follow-through. Nothing frustrates a line manager more than a lack of follow-through.
- Are you educated on the Blended Retirement System? As you prepare to leave military service, understand the traditional defined benefit military retirement plan for people entering service on or after Jan. 1, 2018, has fundamentally changed. Specifically, defined benefits will be reduced by 20%, and military members under the new system who do not contribute sufficient funds to receive the full 5% government match will have much less financial security in retirement than current retirees. These changes may not affect you, but they will affect many of those you will continue to mentor.
Finally, the best advice from 2020 is to join MOAA. Make it your first New Year's resolution to go to www.moaa.org/join and add your voice to our 350,000 members working to maintain a strong national defense. And, in the process, you will receive some of the best financial education and career management advice available in the private sector. Happy New Year!