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BY Joel Junker

Location – It’s a Big Deal in a JMO Military Transition

It is only natural that you wrestle with the location issue.  The key is to wrestle with it BEFORE you launch into a career search. In other words, do your research to understand the trade-offs that come with location preferences and develop a strategy to help you make good career decisions.


Without carefully considering the role location will play in your career search, it can end up being a ball and chain around your neck. It is hard to watch people who have worked so hard to be successful allow location to hold them back from reaching their potential in the business world. Without good information, a lot of people make bad career decisions in this regard and end up having to conduct another career search 12 months after leaving the service. It is important to get it right the first time.


Here are some things to think about when it comes to location.


1.  Everybody has location preferences.  We are all human and if all things were equal, who would not want to be in a familiar location or close to family? As stated above, the question is not whether you have a location preference, but rather how you will manage location preference with regard to achieving your career goals.


2.  What is your vision for your career? Too few candidates really ask themselves this question.  Where do you want to be in your career 20 years from now? Do you see yourself as a development candidate, investing in your career and growing to the executive ranks of a company? Or, do you see yourself as a future middle manager, developing an expertise in a certain area of a business (what is a non-development candidate). Both are viable career opportunities, but the first one leads to future leadership and the second to future managers. Rank your leadership ambition on a 10 scale (10 very high, 1 very low and 5 average).


3.  High leadership ambition. If you answer that you are an 8 or higher, then location should not be a discriminator in your career search. Instead, you should prioritize the quality of your experience, your ability to learn and develop new skills, the investment in your track record, etc. The quality of your opportunity will have a very large role in determining your ability to translate your talent into career success.  Using this strategy, geography is a tiebreaker between two equal career opportunities.  Location still plays a factor, but it is not a leading or a limiting factor.


4.  It works the same in the military. Imagine that you joined the military with the intent of being a general officer some day (i.e., pretty high ambition). With regard to location, you tell the military that you only want to be located in Atlanta or in the Northeast for your career. Even if the military let you manage your career this way, how realistic would it be for you to compete for a general officer position?  How credible of a leader would you be if your subordinates have broader experience than you do? The same holds true for multi-national corporations.  The best leaders usually have broad and diverse experiences over their careers, requiring good geographic flexibility.


5.  Lesser leadership ambition. If you have lesser leadership ambition, then location can be more of a discriminator for you. In this case, the quality of your location can take the lead over the quality of your career opportunity. There are plenty of people who live near family and are content with simply having adequate employment. They are honest with themselves and realize that they may not be competitive for leadership positions, will likely have reduced financial reward and less challenging work, and may have higher risk of staying employable long-term.


6.  The Law of the “Lid.” I’m borrowing this concept from a popular leadership book (The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by Maxwell), and morphing it to fit a point on location. Take a minute to rank your attitude on living outside of your location preference for the RIGHT career opportunity (10 is a great attitude, 5 is average and 1 is the bottom). Your ambition ranking (see point 2) can never be higher than your location ranking. In other words, your location ranking will determine the “lid” on your career potential. Too many people rank themselves high on leadership ambition and low on location. This is just not realistic and, invariably, they figure this out after they are “under-employed” and unhappy in their first job after the military. There is nothing wrong with a lower location ranking as long as your leadership ambition ranking correlates. Know yourself!


7.  Stretch in the first job out of the military. If you want to grow as a leader in the corporate world, pick the best opportunity that will allow you to stretch and learn in your FIRST job out of the military.  It is hard to get on a fast track if you have a slow start in your business career. Once you have a successful business track record, it is easier to navigate your career closer to your geographic preference.


8.  Location can be a competitive advantage. Just like in the military, the competition increases as you grow in your career.  Being willing to relocate to take challenging assignments can help differentiate you from others who won’t make this strategic investment. A lot of people talk the talk about being willing to take the hard assignments to invest in their careers. Few people walk the walk. Perhaps that is why so few people grow to be executives in successful companies.


9.  Companies will work with you. Approximately 66% of Cameron-Brooks candidates accept job offers in their REGIONAL preference. The reason for this is that good companies have good attitudes about helping people get in a region of the country that meets their personal needs. Your happiness will be important to a good company. This is especially true once you develop a track record in the business.  During your business career, there will be times that you will accept promotions outside your location preference, as well as times that you will not. The number one reason that business people turn down promotions that involve location changes is due to family considerations. You are free to do this. At the same time, accepting promotions can be excellent strategic decisions. The point is that once you have been in a company and you have a track record of success, you will find that the organization will try to help you balance your professional development with your personal needs.


10.  The time-proven location strategy. Here is a suggestion if you aspire to future executive positions in your business career after the military. First, define your location preference by region (Northeast, Southwest, etc.). Second, communicate this preference to your recruiting firm. Again, remember that 66% of our candidates end up in their regional preference with top companies and excellent career opportunities. Third, identify a couple of other regions in the country where you would consider EXCELLENT career opportunities (in addition to your preference). If your preference is the Northeast, perhaps consider the Southeast or Midwest as viable second choices provided the career opportunity is a great fit. Fourth, identify areas of the country that you would NOT consider, even for a good opportunity.  Lastly don’t bring location back into the picture until you are trying to narrow down offers. Location can be an excellent tiebreaker.


In the end, career decisions are about opportunity/cost. Living outside of your location preference is a cost, but for the right career move, the opportunity/cost can be a good decision. Educate yourself and avoid making emotional decisions. Try not to let location preferences restrict your ability to realize your full potential in the business world.


Joel Junker (adapted from one of Roger Cameron’s Tips of the Month)