When to Start Your Job Search

September 23, 2019, Military Transition

Make an Exit Strategy
You should start creating your exit strategy 12-24 months in advance of your separation. 

Sample Schedule:
12-24 months: Draft a plan and list initial goals for retirement and after retirement.

Consider the following:

  • Where do you want to live?
  • What industry do you want to work in? 
  • What is your dream job? 
  • Who are your dream employers? 
  • Do you need to obtain additional education or credentials before you leave military service to align with corporate requirements in your industry? 
  • What are your salary requirements?
  • Will you take time off between military service and your new job? (How much terminal leave do you have available?) 
  • When will you be available to start a new job? 

As you prepare your goals list, conduct research online and look at the job titles your target employers use for the type of job you want next. Use the career/jobs portal of your target employers. If you don’t have target employers yet, search major or appropriate niche job boards to get started. Additionally, you can work with a career coach to help you identify potential jobs and industries of interest and create a list of desired careers. 

Prepare to build your LinkedIn Profile and design your resume and collateral career search documents: 

  • Register on LinkedIn and begin building your LinkedIn Profile. Connect with people you know from your military service, schools, neighbors, and families.
  • Prepare a lengthy, chronological history of your military employment including awards, training, education, clearances, licenses, languages, speaking engagements, publications, other skills, and major accomplishments/projects. 
  • Draft a “master” resume, networking letter, and list of references. 
  • Make a list of supervisors names and phone numbers for your most recent jobs and a list of 5-7 references including name, address, phone, and email. Contact former supervisors and references you may have lost touch with and obtain their current contact information. 
  • Subscribe to online job board job alerts or other sources of information, i.e., Government Executive newsletters. 

Complete your LinkedIn Profile at least 12 months before you transition, but do NOT activate your free one-year Premium LinkedIn account until you are 3 months from launching your job search (after terminal leave, etc.). Your spouse will also qualify for a free Premium account

5-12 Months:  Start Plans into Motion 

  • Conduct company-specific research of your target employers. Narrow industries and companies of interest. Download and collect position descriptions to help focus your LinkedIn Profile and your resume. 
  • Expand your LinkedIn Network to include people who work for your target employers, particularly in your target field. 
  • Ask for written references and endorsements for your LinkedIn profile. Offer the same to your colleagues who are leaving or have already transitioned. 
  • Open accounts with job boards and keep a detailed list of passwords.
  • Further refine your resume. Prepare an electronic version of your resume and compose cover letters. 
  • Prepare your image, i.e., prepare for interviews and know how to dress for success. Purchase interviewing attire as needed. 
  • Attend a military transition program offered on your base or installation to learn about resume development, job search, and retirement benefits (ACAP, TAP or other). 

1-5 Months: Launch 

  • Build your LinkedIn network. (The more connections the better!) 
  • When you are 3 months or less from launching your civilian job search, activate your free one-year premium LinkedIn membership. 
  • Change your voice mail message to a professional recording. 
  • Construct very specific resumes highlighting your value proposition and brand using industry keywords and detailed accomplishments. Apply for specific positions of interest. 
  • Prepare and post federal resumes if seeking federal employment.
  • Accept all interviews. 
  • Organize your telephone pre-screening interview file and maintain logs of interviews and job announcements. 
  • Learn to negotiate salary. 
  • Meet and greet whenever possible. 
  • Accept a new position.
  • Put your best foot forward on the new job! 

Just as you plan in the military for any operation or deployment, you must plan diligently to seek and land a new career. The better prepared you are to make the transition to your encore career outside the military, the smoother your move will be. 

The Bottom Line
Your military training, skill development, and overall experience is a tremendous asset to potential employers, but you must learn to package those experiences in a way that translates to the civilian sector. You should set and map a course to seek new employment, which includes focusing your career search, creating a strategy, and planning in advance of your retirement date.