How to Find the Right Job the First Time


For many military personnel transitioning to civilian employment and conducting a job search, one of the biggest difficulties is answering the question: What do you want to do when you get out? It is hard to answer that question when you lack information about civilian job options, and perhaps even harder to narrow it down to a specific job title.

Some of you can minimize this issue by looking for the civilian equivalency of your military specialty, assuming there is one. The rest of you will have to wait until the end of your search to fill in that blank. Try to approach your search as an information-gathering process, a byproduct of which, if done correctly, will be your new job.

To get off on the right foot, forget the question in the first paragraph. Focus instead on answering these questions:

  • What are your skills and attributes?
  • What motivates you and makes you happy?
  • What really matters to you at the end of the day?
  • What immediate and future value can you add to your next employer?
  • What must your employer do for you to keep you motivated and you and your family satisfied?
  • What are your needs and your wants (no, they are not the same things)?

Although answering those questions will not produce that illusive job title, it will do something much more important. By knowing what you bring to the table and what you expect your employer to bring to the table, you will maximize your chances of landing the right job, the first time. What's it called? You will know it when you see it.

Without knowing you, I cannot coach you as you climb that self-knowledge curve, but I can give you five evaluation criteria to use as your search progresses.

1. Satisfaction

The job should make you happy, and you should enjoy yourself during most of those long, working hours. You cannot wait to get to work, and it is hard to believe that the workday is over and it is time to go home! Although we never know until we actually get involved in the day-to-day aspects of the job, it is important to look for strong indicators of job satisfaction and enjoyment. Consider also the people with whom you will be working. Will you enjoy their company? Do they share your values and your work ethic?

2. Learning Curve

How long will it take to get up to speed and start making a contribution? Walking in the door with all the requisite skills and knowledge in place means your learning curve is flat and you can contribute immediately. Conversely, if you need a significant amount of training and development before your contributions start to kick in, you are looking at a very steep learning curve.

Which is the better choice? Although the flat curve feels comfortable and you get up to speed very quickly, boredom can set in just as quickly. Maybe the steep curve is a better choice. Yes, you will have an immediate and continuing challenge, but if the curve is too steep, your progress will be so slow that your employer will start to second-guess the decision to hire you. Your best bet is to find a learning curve between these extremes -- steep enough to challenge you but not so steep as to make your progress slow or difficult.

3. Value Added

Unlike the military where compensation is based on attendance (time-in-service, time-in-grade), the business compensates mostly on value added. The salary you have negotiated reflects the company's prediction of the value you will add during the coming year. Exceed their expectations and get a raise! Fail to measure up and start working on your résumé. Make sure the job allows you to add value relatively quickly. In addition, this value needs to be visible, measurable, and attributable -- important factors at your annual performance and salary review.

4. Growth Potential

For this to exist, two things must be present. One, you have to be very good at what you do. Two, your company must be growing. The existence of either one without the other will reduce or eliminate any opportunity for growth. Your best bet is to join a growing company. Is there a high demand for its products or services? Is it gaining market share? Are new products in the pipeline? Is it profitable enough to spend money on research and development? Adding value to a growing company will maximize your growth potential.

5. Quality of Life

Will this opportunity afford you the quality of life necessary to keep everybody happy? Does the corporate culture support this goal? Will you like where you live? Is the compensation adequate to support the cost of living in that locale? Although it is impossible to answer these questions with certainty until you are actually working for the company and living in the community, you can reduce the risk by doing your homework and asking good questions in advance of accepting the offer. In the end, regardless of what it is actually called, the right job for you will be one that satisfies those five criteria. Thanks for your service and good hunting.

For an in depth look at this subject and more, read Tom Wolfe's book, "Out of Uniform: Your Guide to a Successful Military-to-Civilian Career Transition."

© 2016, 2017; Tom Wolfe, author; all rights reserved; used with the author's permission.

Want to Know More About the Military?

Be sure to get the latest news about the U.S. military, as well as critical info about how to join and all the benefits of service. Subscribe to and receive customized updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Show Full Article
Veteran Jobs Hiring Veterans