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By Frederick A. Mastin, Jr.
. eep inside, every career officer and noncommis ) sioned officer knows what every professional ath lete knows: No matter how good you are, the day will eventually arrive when your services are no longer required. It’s time to hang up the uniform and leave the clubhouse for the last time, no longer on the team. The sense of impending loss can be devastating. You are not just leaving a job, or even a profession—but a way of life. And too often, the sense of loss is accompanied by a sense of dread, of impending doom. The sharp cutback in pay and loss of non-taxable allowances often comes when expenses, in the form of college bills and heavy mortgage payments, are highest. In most cases, there is time for a full second career, but few retirees really know what they want to do, much less if they’re any good at it. Stripped of rank, prestige, and perquisites of office, they often face the uncertainties of the outside world with the innocence of an ensign or second lieutenant.
The names are changed, but these stories are true.
u s. navy ir a. pendergisd
Reality set in early one Monday, in a call from Base Housing:
“Captain, we‘d like to set you up in the Hospitality House in the next 30 days or so. We need some time to Pnint your quarters before your relief moves in. We know Hiis is an inconvenience, so feel free to stay a month beyond your retirement date, if you’d like.”
Why did Captain Hank Thompson feel so irritated? The guest house on base was beautifully appointed, and had lurge, comfortable rooms. He had cleared quarters early before, under the same circumstances. Why was this different? But he knew the answer almost before he finished •he question: before, there was always the new assignment to look forward to; this time, there was none. He felt vuguely abused, tossed out into the street.
Then the protocol shop was on the phone. They needed u guest list, with addresses, for his retirement parade and reception. Hell, that was still two months off! Everybody had their tickler files set to pop out his card on the same rlay. The sure knowledge that he now occupied things-to- do lists all over the base really threw him off. He couldn’t
Proceedings / June 1990 get a loud foul the rest of the day.
The next morning, he called Housing back and told them that it would be too great an inconvenience to be moved out on such short notice. As soon as he hung up, he began to feel like a real wimp.
Captain Thompson's career had reached the two-month warning point. He sensed that time was slipping away, but tor the past hall year or so he'd been knee-deep in projects that left him little time to think about Life in the Hereafter. The admiral had even offered to ease him out of the mainstream so he could get his retirement ducks lined up, but Hank would hear none of it. He was going to hit the finish line at full speed. He’d always played things that way. Any naval officer worth his salt played things that way, throughout his career.
Hank Thompson’s career, in fact, had been close to picture-perfect. He’d been a striper at the Naval Academy, graduating near the top of his class. He had led his class in 1 light school at Pensacola, and gone on to command a fighter squadron and air group, collecting two Distinguished Flying Crosses and a Silver Star in Vietnam.
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.
Fear and Paralysis
Hank and Jim came from different backgrounds and had different service experiences, but they had one thing in common: What began as relatively easy discomfort-avoiding choices—to remain immersed in active-duty pursuits and put off preparations for a second career—hardened into potentially self-destructive behavior as the dreaded moment of involuntary separation came closer.
The culprit was fear. Crippling fear that shook the selfconfidence built up during their largely successful careers, letting in the first pangs of self-doubt. It has been described as an inner dread or uncertainty about people or circumstances that the fear-ridden person cannot cope with, much less control. It is far more common than generally acknowledged within the community of military leaders, who have been taught to believe in themselves from their earliest days as professionals. “Handle pressure? I thrive on it!” boasted a well-decorated Marine colonel. But in the next breath, he added softly, “But the thought of a new career has turned me to jelly.”
A prime reason for such fear is ignorance—the same ignorance city dwellers display and the same fear they feel when confronted with a seemingly impenetrable jungle for the first time. They don’t know what’s in there, but they suspect that there are plenty of things to bite, sting, or poison them. They also sense that the jungle contains plants and animals to feed, clothe, and house them—but they don’t know how to make that happen. Such fear of the unknown is natural for even the most successful military leaders. But for those who leave active service before attaining their personal career goals, that fear is compounded by a vague sense of guilt. Unable to forgive themselves, they perceive that things just will not work out, from that point on. As more than one expert has noted, one of the results of our fears is the diminishing capacity to create and think. Those imprisoned by fear are unlikely to risk much. They are not goal-setters, and they often settle for less than their potential.
That is undoubtedly true, and that is a miserable shame. Not knowing about the career opportunities in the civilian “jungle” is bad enough. Far more distressing is the daily
occurrence of seeing good people settle for less than they deserve. This doesn’t mean only six-figure, high-level executive positions. This means getting caught in second careers that fail to fit the talents, skills, interests, needs— or even the dreams—of the retirees.
Hank Thompson and Jim Murphy were caught in this trap. By putting off decisions and actions they knew they ultimately would have to face, they intensified the normal
feelings of guilt that accompany retirement. In time, they saw their procrastination as selfish, causing others in their families to stumble. This brought even more stress. Something was going wrong and they weren’t doing anything about it. In time, they became truly tormented. After all, most people expect a military leader to deal confidently with major life issues.
Crossing the Bridge
I met Hank Thompson at a career-transition seminar, about three weeks before he left the Navy. He had not wanted to attend, but a friend dragged Hank and his wife, Rita, along. Later, he barely remembered being there. Seeing Hank crumble almost overnight, Rita was beginning to come unglued herself. The admiral had brought in a temporary relief for Hank the week before, to give him time to phase out—but he was actually fighting to hang on to his duty assignment. Hank was crippled by fear. He was frozen machinery.
The Thompsons were using every stalling tactic available to stay in their quarters past Hank’s retirement date. In time, they would wangle one extra month beyond the offered extension before being pried loose. They finally moved to a small off-base apartment where Hank holed np, becoming a recluse. He remained sequestered there for nearly a month, emerging only to carry up the groceries and carry out the garbage. He sank deeper into depression, getting to the point where Rita was afraid to leave him alone, even for a quick run to the store. Family and friends fried to break him out of his funk, but could not penetrate fhe thick wall he’d built around himself. About three Weeks into his self-imposed exile from life, Rita called me in desperation. Would I try to break through?
I met Jim and Bev Murphy at another transition seminar, about ten months before Jim was scheduled to leave the Navy. Jim, like Hank, would have preferred to be
elsewhere—but Bev was the catalyst in this case. “We are going!” she insisted. “You are on a collision course with reality, and you’d better grab the controls before we all get wiped out.”
At first, Jim fought me and fought the program. He was a real pain in the hindparts. “Totally out of character,” Bev told me later. But before long, character showed through. Jim turned the corner when he suddenly blurted, “I’m scared stiff at the thought of leaving. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life riding the rails to some miserable office where I have to wear a tie every day.” The floodgate had opened. The pressure was off. Now we could start to deal with some real stuff.
Hank took longer. When I called, at Rita’s urging, he tried to snow me. Everything was just fine, he claimed. What he needed was a two-by-four between the eyes, to get his attention.
“Face it—” I said. “You’ve been torpedoed, but lifeboats are standing by. Why the hell won’t you climb into one?” After a few more shots, he climbed in. He said later it was one of the hardest things he’d ever done—and that he wished he’d had the sense to do it sooner.
The next hard thing he did was admit he needed help from a professional, to get his head back on straight. Rita went for a couple of sessions, too. Hank was eager to get on with life. He contacted friends, interviewed with a few Beltway Bandits, and poked around with a few other opportunities. But after a while, he felt as though he was shooting in the dark. Nothing really suited him.
The pieces finally began falling into place when he started looking into every corner of his life, going back over his 30 years in the Navy, then back some more. He listed things and jobs he’d liked, and those he didn’t like. He looked at old fitness reports to see how others saw him, and found his first clue there. As a lieutenant (j.g.) in a reconnaissance squadron, he had been assigned to hold classes on new surveillance equipment, and had excelled— because of his painstaking preparation and his obvious love of teaching. His tour as an NROTC instructor, one of his most enjoyable, came back into focus. The juices were starting to flow.
Hank brought Rita into the picture, sharing his thoughts. What to teach? Math, maybe, or one of the physical sciences. What level? Not sure. Secondary school, perhaps. Where? We’re both northerners, taking a ski vacation every winter. We’d go nuts in a place like Florida. What about money? We could sell the house in Virginia and the lot on the lake. Teaching won’t make us rich, but I have my retirement pay and you want to return to the workplace as a speech therapist.
Family and friends for both of them were scattered between Boston and Reading, Pennsylvania. At the library, they obtained lists of public and private schools in the area, soon focusing their search on central New England and the eastern part of New York. Hank planted some seeds with about 40 letters to schools, then put their house and lakefront lot on the market before leaving on a personal reconnaissance of the target area, stopping with friends and relatives in Massachusetts and Connecticut.
The Personal Business Plan
Every prospective retiree should prepare a personal business plan. Keep at it; revise it; update and use it as a road map for your new career. Develop a realistic schedule of milestones, based upon your availability for employment:
- Start your planning approximately one year (or earlier) before your date of separation (DOS). Check out companies, review technical publications and indexes, and build a good file on what you learn. This will pay dividends when you interview with a prospective employer and show your knowledge of the company and its products. Generate two preliminary lists: those companies most likely to employ your skills, and those for whom you would like to work. These should be your primary targets.
- At DOS minus nine months, define your employment objectives and preferred geographical area. Prepare a draft copy of your resume, and keep revising it until you are satisfied that it is the best you can make it. For this part of the plan, list your skills, expertise and experience, and formulate a second list of
things you would like to do. Combine these lists within three months, i.e., at DOS minus six months.
► At DOS minus six months, you should be ready to start your job search with a good resume, smoothed and ready for distribution. Start networking, contact friends, write to corporations or contact a professional recruiting agency. An important part of this plan is to state clearly your qualifications and when you will be available for employment. You need not specify your salary requirements at this time, because it is likely that you could price yourself out of the market by being either too high or too low. Salary negotiations can be very complex, and unless you are skilled in this area you will need the guidance and assistance of a capable recruiter. This can come later during the interview process, after your skills have been evaluated and your job responsibilities identified. No matter how well you plan your job search, do not expect a 100% response to your inquiries. A good ratio is about a 10-15% response.
► At DOS minus three months, you should start your followup action. Respond to those companies or agencies who have answered your inquiries. Tell them of your interest and plans, and when you will be available for interviews. By this time, you should have established points of contact with your prospective employers.
A well-prepared resume is the hallmark of a professional who knows what the business world is all about. Your resume reflects your image. There are good books available on resume preparation that can help you produce one that will be read. Personnel managers see hundreds of resumes a week and barely have time to review them all. Your resume will arrive in a stack of mail and no matter how much of yourself you have put into it, it will just be one of many to the person reading it. If it does not tell the readers quickly what they want to see, it stands a very good chance of winding up in the circular file. Harsh but true! Remember the one cardinal rule of job hunting—the resume is intended
When they returned home, they had four affirmative replies to the letters of inquiry. The two most promising came from Connecticut and Massachusetts. Hank and Rita were on a roll, and anxious to get on with Phase II.
By contrast, Jim’s entry into the rest of his life was a piece of cake. In 90 minutes, I was able to chart a course for Phase II with both Jim and Bev. They liked the idea of returning to New Jersey—where their families and friends lived but his primordial uneasiness about commuting to New York City in a suit and tie offset this plus factor for Jim. A bit of probing surfaced his near-passion for building his own home, preferably a log cabin. He had built a lakeside cabin when they were stationed in Charleston, and two additions to earlier homes. “Jim is a craftsman,”' Bev said. “He is happiest when creating, building, or improving something.” Some additional probing revealed that Jim had a good working knowledge of plumbing, was a fair mason, and held a master electrician’s license.
Next came the homework. A local research librarian located about 200 companies in the United States that
dealt in log cabin homes, ranging from kits for the do-it- yourself types to custom-built luxury models. The best news was the steady upward movement of the log-cabin- home industry, unaffected by the fluctuations in the regular homebuilding market. The Log Cabin Association in Washington, D.C., put Jim in touch with two companies.
He used a combination of weekends and leave time to dig in and get dirt under his fingernails. He saw every phase of the business—from site selection to clearing the land, to ' construction, financing, and sales. Within five months,
Jim knew he d found his cup of tea. The owner of the more expansion-minded company offered him a choice between running a Charleston-based operation and opening up a territory in the eastern part of Pennsylvania that showed great promise. The choice was clear: Pennsylvania is next door to New Jersey. Bev enrolled in a refresher course to bring her skills as a registered nurse up to speed.
She had been away from her field for nearly ten years, and had some catching up to do. But she had a portable career that could be rolled up and carried anywhere.
The Thompsons settled in central Massachusetts, where
By Andrew R. Buist
to get you an interview; the interview gets the job.
Keep your resume to no more than two pages. It is best to use a good quality white bond paper. Purple or orange papers are gimmicks and provide no "^vantage, other than telling the reader that you are interested in gimmicks. Your resume should he concise and factual, and show very quickly that you are qualified for the job. Start off with the things that you consider ruost important to your reader, to some cases, this could be your level of experience or unique skills, while in others it 'night be your academic creden- hals. Whatever they are, put |hem up front and save the less important details for the end.
Two types of resumes are acceptable. In the chronological resume, you begin with your current position and list in inverse order previous positions you have held. The second type, which is becoming more popular, is the functional resume.
This resume breaks your experience into functional blocks: e.g., technical supervision, management, financial management. It describes the skills you have developed that you can bring to your prospective employer.
If you choose a professional recruiting agency, it is important to find out something about it before you begin your job search. Phone calls or letters of inquiry to agencies are not out of order. Most reputable agencies do not mind responding to bona fide inquiries. First, try to find an agency that specializes in your type of skill—be it defense, electronics, finance, marketing, sales, medical, legal, accounting, or something else. Next, ask the agency about who pays the fee—you or the employer. You need to know this before making any kind of commitment. If the employer pays, the agency will not disclose its fees, since they are usually negotiated, privileged information between the agency and the corporate client. But you should know if you are going to be charged for anything. Ask about the distribution of your resume and the type of confidentiality you can expect. Be sure to tell the agency whether or not a wide general distribution of your resume is acceptable to you. Initially, do not expect the recruiting firm to name their clients. You will find this out after your resume has been presented and an interview schedule is established. In due course, the recruiter will probably give you a general summary of the company, including the type of business, annual sales, geographical location and other relevant information. If you do not want to work for a particular company, you should discuss this with the recruiter, before a lot of valuable time is wasted by both of you.
Now that you have some idea of how to start your quest for a new job and a new career, you’ll find it to be an exciting challenge. Thousands of people have already done it successfully. You can do it, too—and perhaps even make a dream come true!
Mr. Buist is a retired naval officer with more than ten years' experience in defense contracting. He now heads an executive search firm in Annapolis.
Hank began to teach math at a prep school. He rose to department head within three years, and was soon coach- "ig the school’s ski team. Rita worked nearby at a therapy center for handicapped children.
T/te Tough Call
The down side of a military career can be devastating. Ask the ones who’ve been there. One former Marine colonel, now vice-president of a major bank on the West Coast, compares his experience with that of a prize fighter who hangs in for one more payday and winds up flattened °n the canvas.
“The key is the decision to leave,” he says. “Too many of us hang in there, going that extra mile—only to see the rest of the active-duty pack catch up and run us over. There is—or should be—a little buzzer inside your head that signals when it’s time to go. Some of us listen to toe signal and press on to something new. Others ignore it and hang on too long.”
Career military officers and noncommissioned officers get paid for making timely decisions. But many of the decisions are already made for them—where to work, where to live, when to deploy, even when to start work each day. Many timely choices on a career path really are not basic choices. They are decisions about details. For many, the first real decision point comes at the 20-year mark. Another choice may be offered in another 6 years, but for most of those who survive the up-or-out process, all the cards are on the table and many of the earlier choices are gone a scant 4 years later.
A real decision is possible only when genuine options are available. Uncovering such options usually takes foresight and preparation—inventorying skills and needs and taking steps to fit them together. Looking at the true options before it’s too late is the only way to move forward with confidence, in control of your own destiny.
Mr. Mastin has 14 years’ experience as an executive-search and outplacement specialist and career-transition counselor. After five years’ active duty, he served 17 years in the Marine Corps Reserve.