- The Essential Military-to-Civilian Transition Resource

Job Hunting in a Recession: Tips for Ex-Military Candidates
by Tom Wolfe, Career Coach and Senior Contributing Editor

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Tom Wolfe

Thinking about changing careers? Wondering how the recession will impact your job search? As a career coach who specializes in assisting service members as they transition from the military to civilian occupations, the hiring trends of corporate America are always on my radar. To investigate this properly you need the right tools. Quantity and quality are your best evaluators and, depending on which tool you choose, the news is either good or bad, or perhaps both.

Let's start off with the best-case scenario. There is no recession and you are looking at a great opportunity in a great company. Everywhere you turn you see growth. The division, the company, the industry and the gross national product are all expanding. Demand (the number of openings) is high and the supply (the number of qualified candidates) is low. That company will have trouble filling all of its openings and your odds of employment are enhanced. Better yet, it is highly likely that there will be several companies competing for your talents.

Now, let's get real. As we remove one or more of these "growth" scenarios we begin to approximate the realities of today's job market. Your best case starts to fade. Under these circumstances, measuring the success of your search in terms of the number of opportunities available (i.e., quantity) will be disappointing, but there is some good news.

Regardless of the status of the economy, many organizations will continue to recruit high-quality individuals. Although the number (quantity) of people they expect to hire has been reduced, they will fill the openings they do have with high caliber (quality) individuals. In fact, many companies will raise the bar of acceptability just because they know they can - there are plenty of good people in the talent pool from which to choose!

Everyone likes to comparison shop. Whether you are in the market for a new DVD player, car, house or job, being in a multiple-choice situation is preferable to simply jumping on the first empty boxcar that rolls down the track. Although the quality of your ultimate choice should be your primary consideration, the number of options (quantity) at the end of the process is also important. Companies feel the same way. They want to see multiple candidates for every opening. The more openings they have, the more candidates they pump into the interviewing and selection pipeline. Take away a few or most of those openings, and watch the impact on your job search. One way for you to deal with a reduction in the importance of quantity at their end is to make the same adjustment at your end.

Here are some things to do to enhance your chances of success in today's job market:

  • Lower your expectations when it comes to quantity. Do not expect to generate as many interviews or job offers as you would in a growth economy.
  • Do not lower your expectations when it comes to the quality of the opportunity. High quality options continue to exist - they are just more difficult to find. This is the good and bad news scenario mentioned above. It will be harder to obtain the job, but the opportunity just might be a better one. Think about it - a company that continues to hire in this economy must be doing something right! For example, take a look at all of the advertisers in this issue.
  • Keep in mind that some companies raise the bar in a weak economy when it comes to quality, realizing that the pool of talent available to them allows them to do so.
  • Get professional help. A high-quality job search is tough, even in a strong economy, and simply learning how to do that search is one of the difficulties. You do not need to climb that learning curve alone. Take advantage of the services offered by military-to-civilian placement companies, attend job fairs, and consider using a professional resume writer or a career coach that specializes in the military-to-civilian transition.
  • Be as flexible as possible. Reduce the number or relative importance of filters in your search. Consider options that fall outside of your preferences. Maybe you could accept a salary a little lower than your target. Perhaps you can express a willingness to travel more than is ideal. Although relocation might not be preferred, it just might prove to be necessary. Find ways to make yourself more attractive to a potential employer.
  • Understand the difference between what you want and what you need to make you and your family happy. No, they are not the same. You are better off with an opportunity that satisfies all or most of your needs than you are with one that takes care of a few of your wants.
  • Redouble your preparations. The companies have raised their standards of acceptability. Assuming you are in transition now, there is very little you can do in the short term to make yourself more marketable with respect to your qualifications. Your education, experience, training, and certifications are what they are at this point. If your transition is a bit down the road, then you might have time to modify those things to make yourself more marketable when you do get out.
  • Minimize the causes for rejection that are within your control (poor self-knowledge, inappropriate interviewing etiquette and protocol, inadequate company research, failure to show interest, etc.)
  • Remember - one is the magic number here. No matter how many or how few job offers you generate, in the end you can only accept one of them!

In summary, even though the economy is weak and many companies have reduced their staffing requirements, high-quality individuals can still conduct high-quality job searches and end up working for a high-quality organization in a high-quality job.

Bottom line - although you want the results of your job search to score well in terms of both quality and quantity, the caliber of the opportunity chosen is more important than the number of options from which you choose.

Tom Wolfe, Career Coach, is a nationally recognized expert in military to civilian career transition and the Senior Contributing Editor at Civilian Job News.  He served as a surface warfare officer in the Navy and has provided career guidance to military personnel since 1978. Contact him via e-mail


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