- The Essential Military-to-Civilian Transition Resource

Career Coach's Corner: The Right Job For You

by Tom Wolfe, Career Coach and Contributing Editor

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Tom Wolfe

Use these five criteria to make sure you are searching for the right job.

You have probably heard that your military experience has positioned you for a civilian job when you get out. Most of you can assume that to be true, as long as you set your expectations correctly and put in the work to get that job. But will it be the right job for you? Although you will never be certain until after that new job begins, you can maximize your odds of making a good choice by comparing each opportunity with a set of five standards. Find a position that measures up in each of these areas and your search is over!

1. Happiness. Will the job make you happy? Will you enjoy yourself during most of those long working hours? You cannot wait to get to work and it is hard to believe that the working day is over and it is time to go home! Although you never know until you 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 who work there - will you enjoy their company? Do they share your values and your work ethic? Your coworkers will have a major impact on the enjoyment you obtain from your profession.

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 that your learning curve is flat and you are able to 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? Opting for the flat curve can be a strong temptation: you would already know how to do the job and you could get up to speed very quickly. One problem - boredom can set in just as quickly and the enjoyment factor takes a nosedive. Maybe the steep curve would be a better choice. You would have an immediate and continuing challenge. However, 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 in between these extremes - steep enough to provide a challenge, but not so steep as to make your progress too slow or too difficult.

3. Adding value. Unlike the military where compensation is based on attendance (time-in-service, time-in-grade), the business world determines compensation based on value added. The wage or 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 resume! Make sure the job allows you to add value relatively quickly. In addition, this value needs to be visible. You could be the most valuable person on the team, but if the value you are adding is invisible, it will be difficult to receive any credit. Ideally, this visible value added should also be measurable - an important issue at your performance and salary review.

4. Potential for growth. For growth potential to be viable, 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 factor without the other will reduce or eliminate any opportunity for growth. Make sure you are joining 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? Being able to add value to a growing company will afford you tremendous growth potential.

5. Quality of life. Will this opportunity give you and your family the quality of life necessary to keep everybody happy? Does the corporate culture seem to support this goal? Will you like where you live? Are the culture and the climate compatible with your needs? 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.

To summarize, what is the right job for you? It is one in which you will enjoy the work, where the learning curve is neither too steep nor too flat, where you can add visible, measurable value, in a growing organization, and in circumstances which will afford a high quality of life for you and your family. When you find one that meets these five standards, take it - your search is over!


Tom Wolfe, Career Coach, is a nationally recognized expert in military-to-civilian career transition and a 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 email at

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