It’s time to review and hone your ‘Civilian’ Skills
What to do during your last Active Duty tour to prepare yourself for a civilian career? Continue to get good Evaluations and Fitreps. Don’t be evasive when your Command asks you what your career plans are, but unless the answer to your career plans is obvious (i.e. you’ve been passed over or directed to retire) I would not broadcast your plans to punch out. Why?
All things being equal, the ‘Good’ Fitrep/Eval grades (especially at a large Command) will be doled out to those who tell the Command they are career military (or are at least seeking a follow-on tour). Think about it- If your boss has only one ‘EP’ to give out to twelve junior officers, do you think s/he will award it to someone who almost certainly does not need it for his next job? If you get ‘cold feet’ with your plans to punch out of the military, or you win the ‘Detailer Lottery’ and are offered a set of dream orders if you do a follow-on tour, the last thing you want to have on your record is a black mark to carry forward as baggage for the rest of your career.
Also note that Many federal employers (and some headhunters) are clued in about the nuances of interpreting Evals/Fitreps- Most are experienced veterans who know how to spot ‘red flags’. Expect potential Federal employers and Military Headhunters to ask for your evaluations. Potential employers want to see an upward trend- just like any military promotions board.
The Number One skill set you need to work on while your Active Duty time is winding down is- Interviewing. Interviewing is a skill! Get “The Interviewing Handbook for Military Leaders” by Paul Kreider. When I was nearing the end of my military career, one of the headhunter outfits was handing this book out for free. I have no idea what the latest version of the book is, but I still have my marked-up original copy from years ago. Paul Kreider’s info is so timeless that I still refer to the book today. The interviewing techniques Paul recommends are so useful that I have loaned the book out to non-military friends. Every few years you should do a job interview- If for no other reason to gage your marketability and refresh your interviewing skill set.
So what can you do if you are nearing the end of an Active Duty Career and need to get the chops up for job interviews? INTERVIEW. Attend a hiring conference sponsored by one of the headhunters. You need to hone your interviewing techniques and gauge the marketability of your professional skills. What’s the worst that could happen? You may get a job offer so lucrative you can’t refuse!
Should I go and get an MBA/MS Engineering/MS Managment?
Depends. Unless you are accepted to a “Top Five” MBA program (Harvard, Stanford, Wharton etc), the 3 letters you just added to your name mean one thing and one thing only to your next employer- They will not have to pay for you to go to night school or an Executive program to get your Master’s.
A Top Five MBA can be a real career (read: salary) booster, but keep in mind the opportunity cost. One of my Nuke buddies (We’ll call him ‘Bruce’) quit his job in the private sector to get a Stanford MBA. His opportunity cost was 2 years of lost salary (about $160k) plus another $200K to pay for room/board/tuition/fees during the MBA program. When it was all said and done, he used his new MBA skills to calculate the payback time- 20 years! And even though Bruce wanted to help run a business, his most lucrative offers were for Energy Consulting gigs that put him in Saudi Arabia for 5 months out of the year. When I heard this from Bruce, my response was, “You quit the Navy because you hated 7-months per year underway, and now you’re in Saudi Arabia 5 months per year?” I’ll choose the living conditions on a sub, thank you very much (especially now that they have women on board!).
Master’s Degrees in Engineering or Management are ok, but I would only pursue one of these if it is a sweet (free or dirt cheap) deal or if your networking efforts indicate it will be mandatory for the career you are interested in.
Law degrees can work out great if you already have an Engineering Background. Many engineering types enjoy success as patent or contract attorneys… You just have to love reading mouse-type and working 50-70 hours per week.
Are you hoping for a Federal Employment gig near a major Military-Industrial center like DC, San Diego, Dayton, Norfolk, or Los Angeles? There are TONS of jobs in the Defense Acquisition community (if you can stand powerpoint) wherever the the military has a PEO (Program Executive Office). While you’re still on Active Duty, you can take the DAU (Defense Acquisition University) courses for free (either on your own time or time sponsored by the Command, depending on your present billet) and get your Defense Acquisition Workforce Integration Act (DAWIA) Level II or III certification. A DAWIA Level II or III cert will get you farther than any MBA or MS in engineering if you are pursuing employment with an Acquisition command (Hint: Look at the position requirements on USAJobs postings for education and certification requirements).
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