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When he wasn’t flying, he hit the right staff wickets in Washington and Norfolk, and had a carrier for his deep- draft command. He was a “can’t-miss” for flag rank. But somehow he missed, never really knowing why. If he could have pinpointed a bad fitness report or a backstab- bing contemporary, he would have felt better—but he didn’t even have that grim satisfaction. Two classmates who made it told him, “You were a contender all the way. Wait ’til next year.”
But next year didn’t produce. He thought about punching out at the 27-year mark, but his head was turned by a plum chief-of-staff assignment and the urging of his new bride of three years, who was beginning to love Navy life. He really wasn’t ready to leave. And besides, the new assignment was a high-visibility one that represented his best shot yet for that star . . . maybe.
Commander Jim Murphy had come close to punching out at the 20-year mark. He’d missed three stripes on the first go-round, but made it the second time, after a hellish year of self-doubt. During that year in limbo, he had a tempting offer from a Rutgers classmate to join an engineering firm in New York City. Jim and Beverly called New Jersey home, so a commute across the Hudson to the City would be a natural. Bev had been supportive. Whatever he thought best for his career plans . . .
It was a coin toss, until his detailer came through with the barely expected opportunity for command at sea. About the same time, number one son Scott was elected captain of his high school wrestling team (following in Dad s footsteps). They couldn’t move to New Jersey now. Jim weighed the alternatives: he could put on his sincere suit and power tie, drive 15 minutes to the railroad station, hop the New Jersey Central to Penn Station, then catch the Eighth Avenue subway uptown—five days a week, 50 weeks a year, with no time off for good behavior. Or he
Essential Parts of the Job Search
The most important tools are perseverance and a positive attitude. Without those attributes you won’t find the job you want unless you are very lucky. Attitude is important because it colors your behavior. It communicates itself to others in many subtle ways. An experienced interviewer can spot a negative outlook in the first five minutes. Recruiters, who sometimes screen job applicants on the phone, can detect it, too, and will cross you off their list in a minute if they don’t like what they hear. Most important of all is how the problem can affect you and your family. Fear and anger, which are usually the roots of a bad attitude, feed on themselves and can have a powerful impact on those closest to you. At a time in life when mutual family support is critical, destructive emotions can cause a tremendous amount of damage.
If you have an attitude problem, do something about it. It won’t go away by itself.
Perseverance will also be necessary. In his book What Color is Your Parachute?, Richard Bolles graphically illustrates the job search process by a full page of “no’s” ended by a single tiny “yes.” That pretty well
covers it. You only have to get one job.
People who market products for a living spend a good deal of time and effort reaching potential customers. Even the rare and lucky ones who have a package so good that it sells itself must work hard to find the right need in the right place at the right time. The best sales pitch in the world is useless in an indifferent market.
There are five principal ways to make contact with the people who might have an interest in your qualifications and experience. They are: networking, professional associations, recruiters and employment agencies, classified ads, and self-marketing. The books, seminars, and workshops on job-search techniques use different names and variations to describe these methods, but they all come down to the same basic ways of getting in touch with a prospective employer.
One of the major differences between the job campaign of a civilian and that of a military retiree is the relative importance of the various contact methods. Networking is by far the best method of finding a job for someone who has been working in a particular field for a while and has lived in the same part of the country for a few years. Depending on which book you read, 50—70% of jobs are acquired through networking. Retiring military people rarely have the advantage of extensive contacts in the professional area of their choosing. Even though we may have lived in a community for several years, we are usually more isolated from its business and professional life than our civilian counterparts. Therefore, networking is not as rich a source of potential jobs as it might be. A few years after retirement this will change; but for that important first job search, too much emphasis on networking can lead to disappointment.
Professional associations are of more value to us than to other job seekers. Groups such as TROA (The Retired Officers’ Association) or NCOA (Noncommissioned Officers Association) have job placement services, which include nationwide referral systems, counseling, and other forms of assistance. Membership in one of these organizations is a worthwhile investment for the job service alone, and it is tax-deductible. Other armed forces- or defense-related pro-
could head for blue water in command of a U.S. man-of- War> the lifelong dream of every true sailor. Some choice.
The command tour was great, but it didn’t bring the fourth stripe, when the time came. So much for the notion that you started with a clean slate at each new rank. No matter—Jim was guaranteed 26 years’ service, in any event. Thoughts of the cross-Hudson commute were easy to lose.
But as Jim rounded the comer of year 25 and went into toe homestretch, subtle changes began to appear, then mushroom as the countdown continued. Bev was the first to notice.
The first change was in workout patterns. Jim was the total jockstrapper. In their 24 years of marriage, he never missed a workout—a ran, a swim, tennis, the weight room, or even a long walk with Bev after dinner. Then the frequency dropped to four times a week. Then two. Then maybe once.
Then the social life dropped off. Happy Hour had been their mainstay. Jim would do his “business with the boys,” then Bev would join him and they’d go out for dinner—their special night out every week. But that withered and died.
Jim and Bev stopped talking to each other, except for the necessities. The flowers and cards and little notes and even sex all tapered off. After a while, the answers to even routine questions were often sharp, cutting.
They were even losing contact with the kids. Both Scott and his younger sister, Susan, were out of the nest by now. Jim had provided the main communication pipeline between home port and the ships at sea, with weekly letters filled with details and love. But that fell off, and almost died. When Jim did write, the letters were flat.
The Murphys remained active in their church, and continued to direct a Bible study. One area of their life seemed to be surviving . . . barely.
By Captain K.C. Jacobsen, U.S. Navy (Retired)
fessional associations can also be valuable sources of assistance. The Armed Forces Com- munications-Electronics Association and other groups publish newsletters, hold conventions where military and civilian members can meet, and often act as clearinghouses for jobs in the specialty. Participation in this type of association looks good on your resume and is another tax deduction.
Recruiters will probably not Play a dominant part in your job search unless you have a specialty that is in high demand. In fact, some of them will not touch a job candidate who is retiring or newly retired from the military. They consider you too much of an unknown. They will have to spend too much time Preparing and selling you to an employer, and unless their area of concentration is defense- related they may have difficulty evaluating your qualifications.
Virtually every authority on job search techniques will tell you that classified ads are not the best source of jobs. Nevertheless, most people begin their job campaign by going directly to the “help wanted” section of the paper. Some never get any farther than that—but continue,
week after week, mailing resumes to anonymous post-office boxes and waiting anxiously for replies that never come. It is a discouraging and frustrating experience, but because it is the least-demanding approach to locating a job we often tend to place too much emphasis on answering ads, even when the results are meager. Classified ads have a place in your upcoming campaign, but should never be the sole source of job leads.
Marketing yourself by writing to potential employers is another technique for locating a job. Marketing letters, sometimes known as broadcast letters, are a way of distributing an ad for your skills and qualifications. They are usually done in volume; a market letter to one hundred companies is not unusual, and some job seekers send up to one thousand letters. Success hinges upon the appeal of your letter, the accuracy of your market targeting, and—as in any mass campaign—the number of people you reach.
The blend of techniques and the amount of effort devoted to each will differ for each individual. The important thing is to use all pathways to find a job. Some techniques will demand more effort than others, and will require learning new skills. But give all of them a first look. If any don’t work, drop them.
Money isn’t everything. The job that really excites you may also be the one that offers a marginal salary, a mediocre benefits package, and not much chance for advancement. But sometimes the pleasure of doing what you enjoy can far outweigh the drawbacks. Accepting a job only because it pays well can put you in a situation in which you hate the work, loathe the environment, and can’t stand the people around you. Within months, you will be wishing you were back in the service. Your personal life (that new adventure you have been promising yourself and your family) will turn to ashes, and you will be thoroughly miserable.
Life is too short for that nonsense. Take the job that suits you best and enjoy it.
Excerpted from Retiring from Military Service: A Commonsense Guide. (Annapolis: U.S. Naval Institute Press,
1990.) Since his own retirement in 1986, Captain Jacobsen has conducted career- transition seminars and served as a corporate outplacement counselor.