If your goal is a business career, should you extend your military commitment to “ride out” this economy?

I am hearing some JMOs who, though seriously considering a business career, say they are willing to extend their military commitment for 2-3 more years to “ride out” the economy.   Although this seems like a logical decision considering the doom and gloom economic reports, from my view as a  JMO recruiter I question that decision. I question it firstly because it assumes  the economy will significantly change in 2-3 years and secondly because it’s not a decision that should be made without careful research and understanding of the JMO job market and the individual’s unique marketability.

Here are 6 points on which to reflect if you are considering extending your military commitment to avoid the current economy.

1.  Before you make any decision, take time to talk to a JMO headhunter to learn more about the JMO job market, your personal marketability and the steps you can take to improve your chances of success.  There is a lot of information out there, and not all of it is relevant to the JMO.  Before you decide to extend, you should understand your personal marketability in today’s economy and get the real facts from a JMO headhunter about career opportunities available.  A quality JMO headhunter should be able to evaluate your education, military performance, business knowledge and career goals to render an opinion on the best course for you to reach your career goals.  You may wonder, “How do I know if the JMO recruiter has my best interests in mind and is not just telling me what I want to hear?” A straight shooting JMO recruiter should ask for a thorough application, transcripts, and military evaluations in order to fully understand your objective assets; as well as spend time interviewing you and listening to your career goals.  If the JMO headhunter says you are marketable but you should come back to them in a few months, or fails to give direction as to how you should prepare, you should be concerned.   It takes time and focused preparation to succeed in this market regardless of your military performance (See point #5).  Bottom line, do not make a decision without speaking to an expert about your marketability or gathering more information by attending an Information Meeting or webcast geared for a JMO transition.

2.  You either get out in a down economy now or in a down economy later.   The candidate market days of 2004 to mid 2008 will not return for many years.  All you have to do is read the paper to see that most economists believe it will be 10 years before we return to normal economic times.  If your goal is to come to business and not spend a 20 to 30 year career in the military, staying in will likely not avoid the problem but only delay it – and may also create other ones.  Furthermore, companies want leaders who want to help them solve their problems, not people who run from them.

3.  Delaying your transition could hurt rather than help your marketability.   If you know your long term goal is business, the longer you stay in the military (depending on your background) the more you will “age” your credentials.  If you have a technical, engineering or business degree, this is 2-3 more years when you will not be staying current with your education.  You will also continue to fall behind your peers in business experience.  Yes, there are cases where it makes sense to stay in.  In fact I accepted a Navy Information Warfare officer last week who extended with the purpose of getting a more significant leadership assignment and earning his Executive MBA.  His situation is different, he’s being proactive and not reactive.  My point is that there is a downside to the delay.  You could miss your peak time to get out and diminish your marketability.

4.  There are still opportunities for high potential, well prepared JMOs.  We are in the middle of the April 2009 Career Conference follow up interview process, and although the time from the Conference to conducting follow up interviews and earning offers is taking longer than the typical 18 working days, we have leading companies with needs.  The number one company on the FORTUNE 500 list, the leading biotechnology company, and world’s largest consumer packaged goods company are examples of the types of companies with openings.  There are opportunities in manufacturing, sales, logistics, project management and consulting.  There are high potential jobs for JMOs, though the number of interviews and offers one can expect are fewer than in past years.

5.  It takes diligent and world class preparation to conduct a successful career search.  The interviewing/transition bar is high and continues to go higher.  A transition today requires a JMO who has a top performing military track and the desire and attitude to commit to focused time intensive preparation.  I recommend a high quality business reading program, self analysis exercises to learn more about your strengths and less than strengths, and taking time to study industry practices like Six Sigma, Lean, Consultative Selling, Integrity Selling, Spreadsheets, Databases, Self Directed Work Teams and other topics relevant to your career interests.  Apply what you learn to your military career.  Then prepare for successful interviewing by preparing answers to key interview questions and practicing them thoroughly before your first interview.  You will also want to learn how to close and ask quality questions to prove interest during an interview .  Believe me, it takes a lot of work to be a successful interviewee.

To sum up points 1 through 5: for those JMOs who desire a business career, there are openings for highly qualified JMO candidates willing to prepare and to determine if the best course of action for them is to get out now or to wait. Talk to an expert first.

6.  If you are still adamant about staying in for 2-3 years, do not wait to start your preparation. Begin NOW!  When I talk to JMOs who make the decision to stay in longer or have 2-3 years before they get out, many tell me they will call me a few months before their transition.  That’s not what our clients want.  Our client companies want candidates who prepare for their career search, stay on top of business trends and apply business concepts in their military jobs.  How long did you prepare for your military career?  Most will say 4 years.  How long will your military career last?  Most will say 5-11 years.  How long do you want your business career to be?  Most will say 30 years.  How much time will you take to prepare?  You say, 2-3 months.  Hopefully something about this seems disproportionate to you.  This could be the rest of your professional life.  Another reason  for proactive prepartion is that studying and staying on top of business trends will help you in your military career.  I hear too many military officers say they don’t have time to stay current with business because they need to focus on their military career.  Who says they have to be mutually exclusive?  Staying current with business trends will provide ideas and lessons you can apply in your military jobs and elevate your performance.  Also, business is dynamic and it will change a lot in the next few years.  You cannot expect to just engage with business a few months before your separation and then make a successful transition to a top job for a JMO.  Finally, every single Cameron-Brooks alumnus will advise you to start preparing early, it makes doors of opportunity open for you.

To learn more about your marketability feel free to e-mail me at jjunker@cameron-brooks.com or call toll free (US) 1-800-222-9235 or (Germany)0800-85-22670

Joel Junker