Exploring Your CAREER Options AS YOU LEAVE THE MILITARY:
Employee, Consultant or Entrepreneur
Wendy S. Enelow, CCM, MRW, JCTC, CPRW
Never in the history of modern-day business have you, as a transitioning military service person or soon-to-be military retiree, had so many different options for your career. Not only do you need to decide WHAT you want to do – engineering, logistics, finance, technology, HR, general management, etc. – you have to decide HOW you want to do it. Do you want to be:
This article will focus on each of these different career paths, their advantages and potential disadvantages, to help you determine which is most appropriate for you. We begin with the most-widely pursued path; that of the employee.
You As The Employee
Despite the uncertainty of financial markets, our economic volatility, and the constant changes in our corporate employment market, wonderful opportunities still do exist for employment – today and in the future. Finding these opportunities might take a bit more effort and creativity than in years past, but jobs do exist and will continue to exist for many years to come.
If you've made the decision to pursue employment, then you must ask yourself the following questions:
The single most important thing to remember as an employee is that no matter who writes your paycheck, ultimately your work for yourself and for your family. Therefore, your job must not only provide money, benefits, and the like, it must also provide you with a feeling of self-worth and personal identity. In a world where work often dominates our lives, these personal feelings of value and contribution are vital to your own personal growth and sense of achievement. Just as critical, your employer must find value and worth in what you bring to their organization.
Planning and preparation are key. It is strongly recommended that you develop your own “Career Map,” a tool that allows you to envision where you will be a year from now, 5 years from now, 10 years from now, and so forth. With your “Career Map” in hand, you'll have a roadmap to chart your projected career growth and direction, knowing that it will change over time as you move forward, encounter new opportunities, expand your knowledge, and reposition yourself for continued growth.
When you have a plan in hand, you have control over your destiny, something that all too many employees feel they give up when they accept an employment opportunity. Many believe their careers are now in the hands of the company, and they sit passively by, waiting for the company to make the next move.
But, not you! You know that your objective is to move up another tier in the professional or management structure of your company, or another company, within the next two years. In anticipation, you should engage in the following activities:
As an employee, you strive to meet two independent, yet interrelated, agendas – your personal agenda and the agenda of your employer. It is quite possible to achieve both as long as you are clear about what you want and can communicate that information, along with your supporting qualifications, achievements, and talents, to an employer.
You As The Consultant
Ten years ago, there were few consultants, and those who were, most often worked for the large, well-established consulting firms. Today, however, consulting has become a rapidly growing profession, advantageous for both the consultants and the companies who engage them.
As a consultant, once you've established yourself and built a solid reputation, you are free to pick and choose your assignments, concentrating on areas of professional interest and challenge to you. Further, you are often quite well paid for your expertise and the opportunities are unlimited. There are consultants who specialize in integrated logistics and supply chain management, engineering, facilities design, human resources, strategic planning, productivity and efficiency improvement, finance, operations, and virtually every other profession and function you can think of.
As an employer, you can capture the best talent for a specific project or assignment, whether for two weeks or two years, and be “done” with the consultant when the project is complete. There is no long-term commitment or “marriage” as there exists between employer and employee.
If you've made the decision to pursue a consulting career, then you must answer the following questions:
If you choose a career as an independent consultant, you are choosing what many consider an entrepreneurial path. There will be no single employer writing your paycheck, no paid sick days, no paid holidays, and no paid benefits package. Rather, you will have to create your own opportunities through a combination of your marketing savvy, your client relationship management skills, and your particular area of consulting expertise. What's more, you have to ask yourself if you can live with the financial risk of self-employment and the roller coaster of emotions that often follows along. You're “up” when you're working and “down” when you're not.
If, on the other hand, you choose to join a consulting firm, you are often getting the best of both worlds – the dynamic and constantly changing working environment that appeals to so many consultants, along with the stability of that biweekly paycheck from your employer (the consulting firm).
Today, consulting is a well-established and well-respected career path. Opportunities abound as companies have realized the tremendous financial, operational, technological, and performance improvement benefits consultants can bring to their organizations. It truly is a “win-win” for everyone involved. If you have the fortitude, the drive, and the expertise to position yourself as a consultant, you will find the personal, professional, and financial rewards can be quite significant.
You As The Entrepreneur
Nations around the world have nurtured entrepreneurship in its various forms for centuries, but never before has there been such a phenomenal number of entrepreneurs, from small-business owners down the street to the Bill Gates of the world. It is vital that you be realistic in your expectations, knowing that the vast majority of entrepreneurs own small ventures and not mega-corporations. We are not seen on Oprah, not featured in Time magazine; we're not rushing to the bank with our millions of dollars. Rather, we are hard-working individuals who have chosen an entrepreneurial career path for a diversity of personal and professional reasons.
Before you make the decision to launch an entrepreneurial venture, ask yourself the following questions:
If you answered “yes” to these questions, then you most certainly have the entrepreneurial grit, determination, and support system that are so vital for success. Without those qualities and an intense commitment, you'll face an almost insurmountable challenge.
Then, ask yourself why you're considering entrepreneurship.
Are you totally discouraged now? Don't be! Yes, there are uncertainties, long hours, lack of sleep, financial concerns, and tremendous commitments as an entrepreneur, but there are also tremendous advantages. As an entrepreneur and small business owner myself, I cannot imagine doing anything else. Despite the many negatives, there is no other career path that would have been appropriate for me. Is it the same for you?
Now that you've read about each of your options – Employee, Consultant and Entrepreneur – it's your challenge to evaluate each and make the decision that's best for you. Work is such a huge part of our lives today that both personal and professional fulfillment are vital in your career. Now, with such unlimited opportunities as an employee, consultant, or entrepreneur, you can pick and choose the path that is most closely aligned with your skills and long-term career objectives. Go forward with zest and determination, and make your career what you want it to be!