Off I go…

A little over six years ago, I needed a change.  I was a Space Operations officer in the United States Air Force (USAF).  I was doing okay, accomplishing meaningful work, and enjoyed working with my colleagues–but things just didn’t feel right to me.  They hadn’t for a while.  So when the USAF offered decent money to the “surplus” of space operations officers to make an early military transition, I decided to take them up on it.  It was time.

I figured I would start the process of “making it on my own.”  I got out of the USAF in September 2007, but had submitted my papers to leave around April 2007.  I hadn’t noticed signs of the slight crumbling of the economy that had started.  But, the decision was made and I was out.  During the time between April and September I missed a few opportunities.  I didn’t network (I’m very much an introvert), my job descriptions could’ve been better–that sort of thing. It was a very interesting time to trade a comfortable, paid position for the uncertainty of employment in a soon-to-be failing economy.  I learned a few things during that transition.

…Down I roar to score the rainbow’s pot of gold…

Have you ever heard of a sure thing (aside from the Cusack movie)?  Even though I had learned a lot, sometimes I can be overoptimistic, and, boy, was I ever before my September departure.  I thought I had reason to be confident—I had a sure thing:  the last few months before I was out of the USAF, I had interviewed for a very interesting position.

A friend helped to set up the interview, and the position I was interviewing for sort of matched my work in the USAF.  The interviewer chatted with me for longer than the half hour they originally had scheduled for us.  We ended up talking over two hours, with the interviewer introducing me to a few other section managers.  They asked me the right questions, and I gave them answers that weren’t contrived—I knew the subject matter.  It was easy.  It felt like things had gone well by the interview’s end.  It felt like I would be hired on the spot.

…or go down in flames…

Only, I wasn’t.  I waited a very long time for this particular company to call me back.  They told me they would.  I sent the requisite “thank you” and even generally just sent a few queries and made a few calls.  Nothing.  So, what started out as a great ego booster with great job prospects, turned into a big downer.  Even worse, I had postponed my search for a job based on all the great feelings I had received from that one interview.  I was so sure this company would hire me.  The sure thing, wasn’t.

By the time I left the USAF, I didn’t have a job.  Not only was there not a sure thing, there wasn’t even a thing.  Aside from the obvious drawbacks such a circumstance caused, one particular major drawback made my job applications more difficult.  Specifically, the difficulty arose because I worked in a position with a specific kind of clearance and because of that, my initial job responsibilities descriptions had to be generic.

Not all of them were as generic, but the ones which could help me get the job I wanted were written that particular way.  Because of my clearance and the nature of the work, the descriptions are vague out of necessity.  At least until the US government decides differently.  There are a lot job description bullets regarding leading and training, for instance.

What can a person do if there’s nothing distinguishing in those descriptions?  The recruiters certainly don’t have a need to know, but you want to get their attention.  The hiring managers can’t and won’t really know either, no matter how much your inner voice is screaming out to them “I can help you!!”

…In echelon we carry on…

If a time machine existed, I would use it to go back and do things a little differently.  I would talk with people in my work area who were among the few who knew what I did while I was still able to.  I would talk  to my friends stationed in other places to see if there were any opportunities around them.  But because I was fairly confident in that one interview’s results, I didn’t approach anyone in my work area.  That particular mistake is one a person has almost no way to recover from once out the door.

I would also work a little more closely with my supervisor and security office to write and coordinate more engaging job descriptions.  This, to me, is one of the most important things a person can do before leaving a cleared environment.  Write up a beautiful and wordy picture of yourself, and get your boss and the security office to sign off on it.  Suddenly the generic might become more meaningful to the person in charge of getting you the job you want.

Write up a beautiful and wordy picture of yourself, and get your boss and the security office to sign off on it.  Suddenly the generic might become more meaningful to the person in charge of getting you the job you want.

Since my experience with that one brass ring, I make sure I continue my job search, no matter how promising an interview seems.  One of my contractor mentors emphasized the concept of keeping “many irons in the fire,” especially when it comes to applying for work.  I take that lesson to heart.  Especially when dealing with companies who don’t have the courtesy to follow up with prospective employees (and this behavior is, shockingly, more common than it should be).  I used my mentor’s advice and it worked for me:  finally, about five months after I left the USAF, I had two contracts offered to me.  From those discussions, I snagged my first job as a contractor.  The world was my oyster.

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John Holst’s career path is as nonsensical and mad as the March Hare. In a series of what John thought were very trusting decisions, the United States Air Force let him babysit nuclear weapons, develop future officers, and then operate multi-billion dollar space systems. Then John re-enacted scenes from “Brazil” by joining the Missile Defense Agency, working as minutes-taker, configuration, project, mission, and test manager. When he’s not writing for, he is putting his journalism degree skills to use as The Mad Spaceball.