Federal and Military Retirees: Start Smart for Success

Posted by Patra Frame

He looked like a successful executive, a ‘sharp-dressed man,’ and presented himself as one. But then I looked at his resume – it didn’t do him justice. This happens regularly at Cleared Job Fairs and other events where I review resumes of federal and military people approaching retirement.

The following ideas and questions will help you address major flaws in many job search plans. These are:

  • What do you want to do next?
  • How do you use past successes to demonstrate your value for new jobs?
  • Why must you use and build your network to succeed?

Here are three significant aspects of an effective job search for this stage of your career that you need to understand and incorporate into your effort.

The Job/Career Choice

Figure out the specific jobs you want. This is not easy for many. I often hear ‘policy’ or strategy’ or ‘leadership’ or the toughest sell of all, “I can do a lot of things.” Companies expect you to know the specific job you want and to demonstrate your fitness for that role in all your marketing materials.

What are your goals now in working? Do you want to stay in your specialty and move to a government contractor? Or are you considering other private sector options? Do you want to manage big projects or become a recognized expert who consults on such projects? Would you like to stop managing and work as an individual contributor? Is it time to move into the non-profit arena for a cause that is important to you? Do you want to start your own business or, perhaps, work in a small business? Do you want to teach? Write a book? Is it time to do something interesting to you but unrelated to your work specialties so far? Or to return to something you loved earlier in your career?

Do you have life goals or personal/family needs that will influence your decision? Do you want to stay where you currently are or move to another location? If another location, have you lived there within the last five years or not?

Often cleared job seekers say that they want to use their clearance and make as much money as possible. Some worry that if they do not use it now, they will lose it before they need to. Look at your clearance realistically. How does it influence the work you are considering? Do you still want to do the work that requires a security clearance or not? Are you willing to do the jobs available to you based on your clearance if those jobs are significantly lower in the hierarchy than your current work?

I often hear senior managers talk about wanting to do analysis or IT work; yet, they do not have anything in mind or in their resume that shows the ability to do that work. Do you have the network and expertise necessary to get a job that is close to your current level instead? Program management jobs in government contracting typically require P&L experience. If I mention that, nearly half tell me about their budgeting experience and another third ask me what P&L is.

If you are retiring military and want to go into a federal, state, or local government agency, you need to talk with people you know in such government positions. Start with those you currently work with or know from past work. Find out the good and bad, the hiring process, promotion potential, and so on. Do the same with state or local employees if you want to work there. Much of your competition for such jobs will also be veterans, so you need to demonstrate your value effectively instead of counting on veteran preference rules.

While many government management jobs require little ‘hands-on’ technical or professional expertise, civilian jobs generally do. Even at higher management levels, most managers are ‘working managers’ who can do the jobs of the people who report to them. As you think about the next career you want, consider that. Will you need to get some additional training or certifications? Are there things in your current or recent roles that demonstrate expertise in those skills?

As you build a picture of what you want to do next, reach out to people you trust to support you in defining your strengths and ways to use them. Talk to people in the jobs which interest you to learn more about their work. Ask them about professional or trade groups they value and see what each may offer. Most organizations will allow you to attend as a guest at least once or twice before you decide on membership. And, yes, most are continuing in virtual form during the pandemic.

Creating a Resume

Resumes for corporate positions are short documents highlighting your achievements in the most recent decade of your work. They are advertisements for you!

Create a master resume if you do not have one. This document is for your eyes only and shows all your achievements, education and development, extra duty or ‘detailed to’ jobs, and certifications. Complete at least 20 years of your work history. This master will be what you pull information from in creating the resumes you use in your job hunt. It will also help you see work patterns you may not have noticed.

In many agencies, advance approval of resumes is required. Smart job seekers include everything they might ever want to use in this resume. It can be long and as detailed or extensive as you prefer. Here you will include a wide variety of achievements so that you can consider multiple job options. I’ve met many agency retirees who lost valuable time waiting for approval of a second resume when they changed focus.

You will need a variety of resumes. The most important will be the one or two you have for the job or two jobs you want. Every resume you create needs to be in the lingo of the employer and role you want. Learn this by looking at a wide range of job listings on both big job boards and niche ones, like ours. Find the most common requirements and words used to describe them. Check out the scope of the work. Incorporate what you learn into your resume. Later you can tweak it for specific employers as needed.

As a retiree, take two full pages. Cover the most valuable achievements you have in the past decade, matching the work you want. Start with a summary up top – hiring managers usually see your resume in a small preview pane on their computer or phone. That summary of 4-5 short sentences or bullet points must grab their attention and make them interested in reading the rest. Highlight why you are the best choice: demonstrate substantial achievements, experiences, and learning that match the position’s critical needs.

If you are interested in more than one career field, you will need a resume for each. Every resume you create needs to be full of relevant info. For example, I constantly see resumes showing work that is not relevant to the desired job or describing tasks that are not useful in demonstrating value. Skip listing job responsibilities. Hiring managers are looking for the achievements you have which match their needs. Translate your achievements into the terms used in target employers’ jobs. Remember to include both your actions and the results so that recruiters and hiring managers understand the value you offer.

Generally, a classic resume style works best. Use a 11-12 point, standard font like Arial or Times with plenty of white space. Most resumes are viewed online. Fancy formatting does not work well in many systems. You should also have a version you can print out to hand to people – that can have a little more formatting, but don’t get too fancy. Search our blog and videos for detailed information about writing your resume.

You also will need a one-page, highlights resume for networking. This version always has a job title or job family right under your contact information. It is a summary that demonstrates your capabilities, achievements, and experience. You will use this one after you have met someone new, to give to the people you have asked for some assistance, and to remind your contacts of your work. This resume is designed to help people help you more effectively when you are building or rebuilding relationships. It also helps as a reference if they hear of a potential opportunity or other useful information.


Networks are pretty simple – they are all the people you know. Yours may include many other government employees; plus people from your community, religious or service organizations, and professional/trade associations. You know people in government contracting companies who you worked with over the years. Think expansively when creating your list! Executive outplacement professionals expect everyone to be able to list at least 400 people. The quality of the connections outweighs the number for most of us.

Networks are vital to your success in job search. First, the more senior the job you want, the fewer of these jobs there are. Second, companies love to hire via employee referrals. Referrals tend to work out better than hires from the larger pool of applicants. Employees are usually careful about referring people and the referral usually knows more about the company. Finally, there is age discrimination. It is illegal, but it happens. In the technical world, age discrimination often begins by the early to mid-thirties. In other fields, it hits by the mid-forties. When you are recommended for a job by someone the hiring manager knows and respects, this is much less of an issue.

As you prepare for retirement, your network provides a lot of help. If you have not been actively keeping relationships up, you will need to rebuild many of them first. Find and reconnect with people you like. For many of us, the use of social media – like LinkedIn – makes this easy. Once you reconnect, these people can help you prepare. Ask for support to
assess your skills, find the right options, define your needs, review your resume, make new connections related to your goals, or serve as a reference.

If your existing network is not broad, you need to build new relationships. Ask people in your current network for referrals. Get active in your desired field’s professional events (yes, virtual counts!). Follow people in your preferred arena on LinkedIn groups, Twitter, or other social media forums. Build individual relationships as appropriate.

Remember networking is always a two way street – you are building human relationships. You need to be able to give as well as ask for help or advice. And successful careers are built on solid, on-going relationships. Don’t drop these people once you find a job. They can help you succeed at work as well as in job search.

Preparing an effective job search is much easier if you follow these steps. Your ability to find work that interests you in an organization where you can succeed is higher. The quality of your job search directly impacts
the quality of your next job. Paying attention to these steps also reduces the probability that your first job after retirement will be short-term and discouraging. You have a lot of great years ahead, let’s make them exciting and worthwhile!

Patra Frame is ClearedJobs.Net’s HR Management Consultant. She is an experienced human resources executive and founder of Strategies for Human Resources. Patra is an Air Force veteran and charter member of the Women in Military Service for America Memorial. Follow Patra on Twitter @2Patra.


This entry was posted on Tuesday, July 07, 2020 10:44 am

3 thoughts on “Federal and Military Retirees: Start Smart for Success”

  1. Apparently, i’m a self-inflicted victim as far as finding a job is concerned. I’ve had a great career to date and achieved many worthwhile and meaningful objectives for myself and my employer. I must not be getting the right message across to hiring managers. Your advice sounds good. I’ll give it a try. Thanks!

    1. Edward, you are far from alone! Take a look at how far you get to see what you need to improve. Example: you get selected for first interviews but don’t make the short list for further interviews indicates you need to figure out what is wrong with your interviewing but can be comfortable that your resume is OK.

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