Andrew Morton is an Army Lieutenant Colonel retiring August 1, 2012. He is currently set to transition to a prominent full-service PR firm in the Washington metro area.
The top 5 things I knew, things I thought I knew but did not, and things I had no clue about.
1. Be proactive, but not too proactive. Don’t assume you can interview for a job four months before you are able to potentially start a job. The civilian sector and government sector are like the military. While we preach prior planning, if there’s a need for a skill it’s needed now, not necessarily four months from now. Ensure that you keep all your leave as “transition” leave, and or have the flexibility to forgo that employment sabbatical you thought you were going to get.
2. Build a resume one year at a time. Resume building takes effort. You will have several resumes, at a minimum two. The one you use for USAJobs and the public sector (if you’re looking to work for the federal government), and the one you use for the private sector. Everyone has advice on how to build the right resume — prioritizing important skills up front, ensuring your accomplishments are quantifiable and “translating” all relevant skills and accomplishments to the civilian sector. One trick that worked for me was taking a relevant and very strong Officer and Non-Commissioned Officer Evaluation Report (OER/NCOER) comment and featuring it on the top of my resume. That was the very first thing the interviewers remarked on in two different interviews, both of which offered me a position.
3. Sell yourself. It’s not a crime. Don’t ever be apologetic about what you’ve done or your service to our country. Employers will recognize it and thank you for it. Look them in the eye and say, “Thank you, that means a lot to me Sir/Ma’am.” They are not just patriotic. They are also looking for someone who is confident and prepared to assume the next challenge. Even if you know that you earned your Achievement Medal for typing, they will see it as an amazing accomplishment. Have humility, but be willing to accept compliments as well.
4. Have that one story or anecdote. It paints a picture. Be ready to discuss a relevant experience that changed your life, way of thinking, or your ability to accomplish something remarkable. When the time is right, share it! It can be both humorous and heartwarming. It just needs to be real and needs to tell them who you are. It can be arriving home to see the birth of your child 30 minutes too late as a way of sharing why you are transitioning from a great organization to provide more stability for your family. Whatever it is, make it real and make it you.
5. Network. And then network some more. Via LinkedIn or any other professional network, get yourself out there and start connecting. I found my six-figure job on LinkedIn. I refined my resume, read about the organization, and refined my resume some more. Then when I knew it was time to drop the application, I ensured that my LinkedIn profile had the recommendations I had earned through the years. By the time I got the call for the interview the job was mine to lose. Reach out to your mentors, former bosses, and those who’ve influenced your career in uniform. Ask them to write a Personnel Policy Guidance (PPG) about you and what you’ve done. They will be glad to do it.