Successful separation preparation - one CGO's lessons learned

  • Published
  • By Capt. Elaine M. Larson
  • AETC Public Affairs
I'll be honest. I was irked when I learned about Force Shaping. It was certainly not in my plans to have to face the decision to bail on the Air Force I love or face the possibility of being forced out of it so early in my career. But instead of staying mad and grumbling quietly, I decided to take control of the situation and put in the effort needed to ensure success for me and my family. With a lot of hard work and the help of professionals, the disappointment of Force Shaping turned into a vast horizon of opportunities.

In fact, I just accepted a job offer - and not just any job offer. I'll be working for a great company, continuing to serve a purpose greater than myself (and the bottom line), growing as a professional and making more money than I thought possible at this point in my life. My point is that with the right preparation, the opportunities for junior military officers have never been greater than they are now. And while this article is addressed mainly to officers, the lessons learned can be applied universally.

If you have been affected by Force Shaping, or if it's simply time to transition to the corporate world - now is a great time to get started. In fact, according to RHR International, companies expect to lose more than half their senior management over the next five years. The numbers emphasize the reality: 77 million baby boomers are projected to retire, and the entire Generation X behind them (22 to 44-year-olds) consists of only 46 million people. That "bathtub" equals big opportunity for anyone looking to get a new career started.

Another key point to remember when starting a career search is that military experience is valued in today's society. By virtue of being an officer, we've gained a host of leadership and strategic planning experiences that our civilian counterparts haven't had -- not to mention a world perspective that is vastly larger and more informed than the average citizen. So, even though you're starting this career a little later than your peers, you are qualified and valued.

Also, stop and think about what you really want to do with your life. Transitioning out of the Air Force is a very big step and a huge opportunity to take your life where you want it to go. Being able to articulate what you want to do and why will go a long way in getting you on the right path. Also, once you start interviewing, companies will want to see some conviction about where you want to be. They'll ask questions like: "Why do you want to do medical sales?" "Why do you want to work for Company ABC?" During the interview is not the time to figure that out or convince yourself of some good reasons.

Often, the hardest part of transitioning out of the military is just getting an interview. I know several lieutenants and captains who have spent months sending out resumes with few or no responses. However, corporate recruiters can do the hard part for you - get you the interviews. In fact, by working with a corporate recruiter during my transition I was able to interview with 13 quality companies within a two-week period. This also allowed me to weigh the options simultaneously, instead of one at a time.

There are various sizes and shapes of recruiting agencies. Some specialize in placing military officers; others specialize in the specific industry you're looking to enter. Some will require a fee; others are free to the candidate because they get paid by the company that hires you. A simple internet search can help you find the company that is right for you.

With or without the help of a corporate recruiter, the interviews are where you can make or break your career search. Interviewing can be a lot of fun, if you're prepared. Have your anecdotes ready to go, and don't forget to build rapport with the interviewer by using first names and SMILING.

I also found the following suggestions from my recruiters particularly useful during the 34 individual interviews they set up for me:

Elaine's Top 10 Things to Consider for Interviewing Success:

What specific talents does the interviewer need?

What can I say or do to lend proof of my ability to contribute to this job and company?

How can I convince this interviewer that I'm the right person for this job?

What were the results of my accomplishments?

How can I answer this question and tie it to my Air Force experience?

Remember to sell yourself throughout the entire interview - the resume won't do it for you.

Be smart-honest. Think about your answers. Always maintain your integrity, but don't inadvertently rule yourself out by not thinking through your answer. (For example, if they ask your geographical preference and you're interviewing for a job in Madison, Wis., don't answer that you want to live on the East Coast. Keep your options open by saying you're hoping to be placed somewhere east of the Mississippi.)

Focus all interview answers on connecting your experience to the job and the career field. You have to "build bridges" for the interviewer between your military accomplishments and the skills necessary to do the job or work in the industry you're interviewing for. The interviewer won't make the leap for you - you'll have to spell out the connections.

Clearly explain the type of leadership you've had to use in different situations. One of the larger fears companies have when hiring military officers is that the officer only knows how to get things done by giving orders. Things don't work like that outside of the military, and companies need to know that you can motivate people and build teams without pulling rank. Give examples where you've had to influence and persuade people over whom you've had no authority or gained support for a team project.

Practice, practice, practice. There is no substitute for good practice. Tape record your answers, watch yourself in the mirror, or ask your spouse or a friend to interview you. You can also visit your base Family Support Center where they can schedule you for mock interviews and give you a videotape of the session so you can go home and critique yourself.

Bottom line is you will get out of your career search what you put into it. The opportunities that await you are worth it. And don't forget that by serving in the Air Force Reserves or Air National Guard, you can work in the corporate world and keep wearing that beautiful Air Force blue, too.