First-time job seekers will face a lot of uncertainty when looking for work, especially in today’s market. It’s important to mitigate that uncertainty by focusing on the things you can control. Whether looking for work for the first time after leaving the military, switching jobs or switching careers, avoiding these four common mistakes will help anyone save a lot of time, effort and heartbreak.
1. Focusing on take-home pay
Don’t make the mistake of thinking your compensation package is the same as your base salary. In the military, your paycheck included a lot of great perks, most of them tax-free. These included:
- Housing stipends
- Food stipends
- Medical, dental and vision insurance
- Retirement savings
- Life insurance
In the civilian world, private companies can provide benefits and options the military just can’t, and they don’t all show up on your paycheck. These are things such as:
- Company vehicles
- Stock options
- Bonus structures
As a first-time job seeker, you may not know to consider these benefits as an overall compensation package, rather than looking simply at your take-home pay—but that would be a serious error on your part.
Little differences can influence your bottom line, but won’t be printed on your pay stub. Your role in the new company, location and the associated cost of living in that area, and how much the company expects of you are crucial to finding and accepting the right job. If you handcuff yourself to a base salary rather than considering the quality of life and total compensation package, you’re setting yourself up for a longer job search or dissatisfaction with your employment.
A company car will save you money on insurance, maintenance and sometimes even gas. Stock options exercised at the right time have the potential to make you wealthy or boost your retirement savings. Bonuses can make a tough job worth the effort at the end of every quarter.
Take the time to educate yourself and avoid being one of many veterans who opt out of opportunities that may provide exceptional benefits or additional compensation.
2. Mistaking education for experience
Education is a great tool to advance your career, but don’t let it give you an inflated sense of experience. Education and certifications can “get your foot in the door,” but in most instances, do not replace the need for hands-on experience. Understanding the career progression for a role or industry can help you target jobs that fit your education and experience.
When switching from a military career to a new career field, you might be starting over from the bottom once again, depending on your time in service. You may need to gain civilian experience by starting in lower-level roles and working your way to the higher-paying ones. Researching the labor market and trends can also help you better align your certification or degree pursuits.
If formal education is not an option, you may be able to bridge the experience gap by applying for skill-based internships that provide hands-on training, “upskilling” in your new company, or even a paid education through an apprenticeship program.
3. Geographic limitations
Many transitioning military members look forward to exercising their freedom to choose their next career and location. If you decide on a location before researching the cost of living and the current job market, you may face some serious limitations.
For example, if you choose a densely populated area, a city with a lot of military veterans or an area with a high cost of living, you may run into challenges such as too many roles outside of your skill and abilities or increased competition with more job seekers fighting for fewer open jobs.
If geography is the most important factor for you, be ready to be flexible in other areas.
- Various role types in different industries: How can your skillset support roles in non-traditional industries?
- Travel or shift work options: Does your home life allow for evening work or travel?
- Salary compensation or job title: You may need to gain experience before you qualify for your ideal job.
- Company potential and growth: Does the organization offer a clear path for personal and professional growth?
4. Lack of preparation
Benjamin Franklin once said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” This is also true with job searches—especially during job interviews.
It may be tempting to think that knowing your job and skills is enough to answer the interviewer’s questions. It’s not. Don’t confuse skill competency with interview preparedness.
Prepare for interviews by:
- Reviewing your resume and understanding your professional strengths and weaknesses
- Practicing responses to potential interview questions
- Researching the company culture, history and mission—even the interviewer
- Understanding company initiatives and what you can offer
- Creating a list of questions to ask the interviewer
Impressions are everything in a job search. Employers can tell if you haven’t researched the company. Don’t hold yourself back by being ill-prepared. Preparation for every step of a job hunt is something any job seeker can control.
Do the research, do the work and consider these four critical areas. You will find that a little bit of preparation and forethought goes a long way toward not only finding a job but being happy in that job for the foreseeable future.
Brian Howe is a U.S. Air Force veteran and Recruiting Partner for RecruitMilitary.