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Financial Advice for Career Military

April 26, 2011 Leave a comment

Some useful and practical financial advice from a retired USAF NCO—especially for junior enlisted personnel considering a full military career.

First smart decision though, is to think real hard about a wife and kids before you are financially and emotionally ready to provide for them. Hard to save those extra few hundred bucks, if you have other financial considerations.

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Transition advice from IAVA; on military headhunting firms

April 16, 2011 Leave a comment

Great article one veteran’s advice on transition.

I noticed that IAVA has a whole section on their website dedicated to transition.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention Corporate Gray, a company specializing in military-to-civilian transitions, from job fairs to career advice. More sincere (in my opinion) than some of the firms I will discuss below.

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Military Head-Hunting Firms

I’ve worked some, but have not actually been placed by any of them. I will speak very generally about them, to avoid getting sued ūüôā

In essence, these are a great resource for transitioning veterans who are on the job hunt. Some points for your consideration. If you are a recruiter or work for these firms, I encourage you to confirm, or dispute my points.

1. Start your job search before you separate, even before your terminal leave. If you are serious–even 1 year before your separation date. You want to line something up (without neglecting your current duties of course) right after you leave, to avoid a gap in income (or in your resume). Same applies with school admissions. There will be a gap between acceptance/offer date and start date. You may be able flex your separation date accordingly or start work while on terminal leave (depending on the regulations of your service/command/branch).

2. Have a clear sense of what you want to do. Do your homework on how your military skills translate into a civilian job. If you have a combat specialty, this will be harder–hopefully you will have invested the time to earn some certification or degree before you separate.

3. There is no placement service for federal government jobs–you are on your own to wade through the stupefyingly bureaucratic application process. The good thing is that you will have veterans preference and if you are smart, an inside track on where relevant openings are (more on that in another post). The bad thing is that you have to alot plenty of time not only for the hiring process itself (months), but also background checks and security clearances (which don’t necessarily transfer over outside DoD) which can take more than a year.

4. Headhunting firms are free to you, but get paid by the companies. Military recruiters are incentivized by quotas. They want to get you onboard quickly. They want a good match, to reflect well on their reputation. However, understand that they are salesmen. They will be veterans or JMOs like you. They may sincerely want you to succeed. But be clear about their fundamental motivations when you consider the job offers (and salary options) they are offering you. Don’t let them lowball you on salary offers.

5. There is no harm in using competing firms, just as you would apply to several jobs at once. Without being dishonest, it is prudent to play headhunting (or any other firms) against each other. You always want to keep your cards close to your chest. Be smart about negotiating. Do your homework on salaries—both starting and longer term earning potential. Have negotiating leverage. I’ll discuss salary negotiations on a later post.

6. What kind of jobs can you expect? You’ll have to check out these firms yourself. What have I seen? Alot of general management positions in metal-bending firms in the Mid-West and South or sales jobs in the $60K – $85K range (not that great compared to your military salary + benefits). This is what drove me away. I thought I could get offers of interesting jobs where I could apply my analysts’ skill set in the commercial world, perhaps even internationally (outside of your typical Beltway Bandit defense contractor jobs as you would find on ClearedJobs¬†or Tech Expo). However, I did not receive, nor see any intellectually compelling opportunities. Maybe you were a criminal justice major from a state school and are a grunt (no offense). Perhaps you wouldn’t mind selling medical devices in South Carolina or managing a chemical plant in Ohio or working in management in a auto parts manufacturer in Indiana or being a Home Depot manager or running a franchise. Sorry, that’s not me. Don’t mean to be snooty, but these are the kinds of jobs that seem to be there. That being said, you could find a pretty well-paying job–especially if you have solid credentials like an Engineering degree, etc. If you are a hustler, you could indeed earn 6-figures selling stuff. Indeed, these types of firms often involve managing large operations and lots of people–places in dire need of your leadership skills.

5. But these jobs are not ‘big time’, I think you would best do it by applying to firms directly–many like GE (Junior Officer Leadership Program), Dell (Perot Systems Military Associate Program), Booz Allen Hamilton (Transitioning Military Program), Deloitte (JMO program, formerly from BearingPoint)–have special programs specifically designed to recruit military talent, and for the really good ones, nurture and cultivate that talent by placing you in meaningful job assignments. These programs are truly competitive. You can understand why federal consultants like BAH and Deloitte want JMOs—your clearances and bachelor’s degrees alone make you very valuable–they are Beltway Bandit jobs, but consulting is very transferrable to the commercial world. The other way is to truly ‘reinvent’ yourself by going back to a brand-name professional (law, medicine, business) school. Or, leveraging your military experience in the aforementioned defense contractor realm or even in the policy world for you international affairs/wonkish types (more on that in another post). ¬†Only some niche skill set (i.e. Operations Research degree, cyber security, supply chain, Series 7 license), exceptional interview skills, and/or a brand-name degree will let you in the door to a ‘pedigree’ firm like McKinsey, Bain, Boston Consulting Group, or Accenture (for Consulting) or bulge-bracket banks like Goldman Sachs or JPMorgan or hedge fund or tech firm like Google, Microsoft, or Amazon. Whether not ‘pedigree’ means anything is up to you.

Some of the well-known headhunting firms below, ranked according to my very subjective sense of ‘prestige’ based on my own experiences or second-hand knowledge from friends. Compare the jobs yourself. Again–I encourage you to refute or support, based on your own experiences:

1. Cameron-Brooks

2. Lucas Group

3. Bradley-Morris

4. Orion International

And of course, if you are a ring-knocker, I highly recommend checking out SACC¬†at critical points in your career to gauge yourself against the market–even interviewing to see what you can get. Many of the firms I mention above will be there.

Best Officers Are NOT leaving the military?

March 31, 2011 Leave a comment

Some challenges to Tim Kane’s Atlantic piece on whether or not best officers are leaving the military, courtesy of Tom Ricks’ corner of FP magazine.

Perhaps some wider management lessons outside the military too.

Double-dipping = milking the system?

March 31, 2011 Leave a comment

Gov Exec article on the salary freezes and personnel cuts taking place within the Department of Defense. What really struck me were the comments posted by ‘MJ Smith’ on 3/31. I have been so used to the system of military retirees walking into customized GS positions, that it never occurred to me how wasteful and perhaps even corrupt this process is?

Very fascinating website: ‘Learning from Veterans’

March 31, 2011 Leave a comment

Check this out—this website, ‘Learning from Veterans’, is a National Journal journalist’s effort to record the expertise of IRQ and AFG veterans to inform the foreign policy discourse in America in an educated, non-partisan way. Apparently–it seems he is looking for an institutional or financial sponsor for these efforts.

An Analysis of Retention Issues of Scientists, Engineers, and Program Managers in the US Air Force

March 3, 2011 Leave a comment

A USAF officers’ MIT academic thesis on the problems of junior officer retention.

Fw: Why Our Best Officers Are Leaving

March 3, 2011 Leave a comment

If you fit this category, you are likely to have a strong opinion about this article by Tim Kane (fellow USAFA grad) in the Jan/Feb 2011 issue of the Atlantic.

As for me, this article really, really resonated with me on 2 levels:

  • The¬†current wars¬†we (America) ¬†find ourselves in–counterinsurgency + nation-building (whether we should be doing these at all is another debate) require improvisation, flexibility, and judgment (i.e. a kind of ‘entrepreneurialism’) at the tactical level, from very junior leaders. There is no manual, no SOP. Operating kinetic weapons systems lend themselves to strict, controlled, hierarchical decision-making. However, our troops are being asked to do both this and alot of other ‘soft’ stuff to separate enemy from civilian so we can degrade or neutralize them without creating more enemies. Talking to tribal elders to gather intel, building a school to earn trust—that is the war we are in. But traditional doctrine and leadership development promotes a ‘I’m a fighter pilot/tank driver¬†and want to blow shit up’ mentality. The purely kinetic, brute-force¬†way was tried before–in Vietnam by us, in AFG by¬† Russians, in Chechnya by Russians–to very bad consequences. People on the ground know what’s going on–should be given the flexibility to adapt, exercise reasonable discretion.
  • As this Washington Post article¬†illustrates, the tragic loss of Lt. Gen. Kelly’s son, a USMC 2nd Lt. is a heartbreaking and powerful reminder of the burden of battle being borne by a disproportionate few. More poignant, as a father. Amazing–just 1% of Americans who have served, despite 10 years of continuous warfare. Even smaller proportion who have seen actual combat (unlike myself). Public has to stay informed and engaged–demand accountability from their policymakers and support/offer services. For those talented veterans who choose not to make the military a career, we need their talents and their character elsewhere in society…especially in the C-suite.