Note: This article was written several years after I separated from active duty. I have since started a small business, left the corporate world, and joined the Air National Guard. It has been an amazing experience.
My post-military employment history has been very successful by my standards, even if it did take me 6 months to find work after I separated from the USAF. Many readers here may not be familiar with my other website, Cash Money Life, where I have chronicled much of my employment history (particularly as I went through a job search and found a new job a few months ago).
Leaving the military
The most important decision I had to make was deciding whether or not to reenlist in the military. I was in a situation at my former base where we were deploying every other rotation; every other 4 months at the time. During my 6 years in the USAF, I went on 5 deployments. I had a great time, but there was a point where enough was enough. I wanted to be able to settle down and have a family.
I completed my degree by this time (I let the military pay for my degree), and my decision came down to applying for OTS, reenlisting, cross-training, or separating. The USAF was doing force reductions at the time and were severely limiting officer accessions from the enlisted corps, I didn’t want to reenlist in my career field, and there weren’t any appealing jobs to cross-train into. So I decided it was time for a new job and I made the decision to separate from the USAF.
I missed the military after I separated, but I made the best decision for me on both a professional and personal level. I have since married my best friend and on a professional level, I have advanced further than I would have had I remained in the USAF.
The job search
I began my job search even before I left the military, which is a great idea if you know you are separating. The best time to search for a new job is while you already have a job. The most difficult part about my search was that I was moving across the country to an area I had never lived before, and I didn’t have a professional network in place. The good news was that I was moving to an area where there was a major Air Force base.
The job search took me over 6 months, and I ended up finding a job as a contractor on a military installation. This was a good thing because I had no desire to go back to being an aircraft mechanic. There is nothing wrong with that profession of course, but I had spent a lot of time working on my degree, and I wanted to use it. I also know that when you are the new guy on the job, you get stuck with the shifts no one else wants. I worked them all in my military career, and I much prefer working a standard M-F day shift.
The interview for my first job was interesting because I didn’t have much white collar experience. I had a lot of military experience and associated maintenance and logistics knowledge, standard Microsoft Office knowledge, and a few other areas of expertise. Luckily, I was applying for a job as an Air Force contractor working in the logistics area.
I was well dressed for my interview, and showed up on time. I was relieved when I talked to my interviewers and discovered that 3 of the 4 were veterans. We had similar backgrounds and I was a good fit for the job (even though I was not an exact fit and had never worked a similar job previous to this). I received a job offer 2 days later.
Salary negotiations are an interesting topic, and one that entire books are written about. For this job, my soon to be employers knew I had been out of the military for a few months and they made me an offer I thought was below market value. The HR rep I talked to said the hiring manager didn’t negotiate on opening offers. So I took it.
I could have negotiated but my theory was this: the opening salary was very close to the salary I was seeking ($2,500 off), I wasn’t an exact fit for this job, I had been looking for 6 months and I needed a job (this was the first interview I had), and I knew that once I had some more experience I would have more ground to stand on in future negotiations. I have since learned more about salary negotiation tactics and if I had to do it again, I would negotiate. In the end, it didn’t hurt me because I received a raise several months later that brought me up to the original salary I was seeking.
Moving on to a new job
Over a year later, I decided the job I was working was no longer a good match for me. It was time to move on again. I began searching for a job while I was employed and I found two good matches. I went through two telephone interviews with them, then had a couple of in-person interviews. I received two job offers and had to evaluate the job offers to determine which was the best option was for me.
In the end, I accepted one of the job offers and I resigned from my first post-military job. After I resigned, I gave an exit interview and told my former managers why I was leaving. They made me a counter-offer which I refused. Accepting a counter-offer is not usually a good idea.
Future career prospects
I don’t know exactly what the future holds (that wouldn’t be fun anyway!), but I do know that the military has prepared me well for whatever may come my way. One of the things I have considered is getting an MBA. I haven’t decided if I want to go that route yet or not. I do know that right now, I have a lot of professional prospects and my military experience is something I will carry with me for the rest of my life.