Sunday, June 14, 2015

Setting your sights on a new job: Career transitions for SAF Regulars

For some Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Regulars, the move from military life to the corporate sector can be a life-changing experience that is fraught with uncertainty.

For the SAF's men and women in their 30s or 40s, with loved ones to look after and multi-year financial obligations to service, such career moves do present moments of anxiety that no war game, TTX or FTX ever trained them for.

That said, many SAF Regulars tend to underrate the value their professional military training can serve as a springboard to new career pathways. SAF Regulars may not realise that processes, techniques and procedures embraced by MINDEF/SAF in areas such as staff work, leadership and management matters and even something as basic as Powerpoint presentation formats often rival the best efforts that the corporate sector can muster.

Indeed, there are individuals from the SAF alumni whose staff work - be it for concept papers or policy positions - can pass off as a facsimile of MINDEF/SAF papers in terms of formatting style, the way situations are described and recommendations are made. Such staff work is systematic and thorough, gets right to the point, is comprehensive in scope, logical in analysis and precise in the recommendations made. If you've assimilated such best practices, your foundation in what the private sector terms as business communications will put you in good stead.

Here are other points SAF Regulars should note before they step out of uniform for good:

1.Network relentlessly
The SAF presents ample opportunities to interact with organisations without an AFPN number. These include annual affairs like the National Day Parade Executive Committee, working committees for large-scale events such as the Singapore Airshow, Singapore Grand Prix, Army Half Marathon, assorted defence dialogues, Total Defence engagements with government/private sector organisations and even the SSPP which gives you face time with educators. You can see these non-military assignments as a chore or value these as a networking opportunity. Astute individuals will use such interactions to build a better sense of what the corporate sector does, not just to get a new job (which is, really, the end-state) but also to be conversant with the names of SMEs and MNCs and have some idea of what they do. 

2. Sharpen your market intel
A key step in finding a new job is to know what's out there and convince your future employer of the value you bring to the organisation. This helps you suss out your competitors for that job, typically mid-career executives who have spent more years than you honing their skillsets in the private sector. This means you need to be one-up against the competition. And you got to know how to market yourself better.
In other words: Know yourself, know your Enemy. A thousand battles.... well, you know how the phrase goes. Jobs are not an amorphous blob with no shape or form. Think government sector or private. SME, MNC or perhaps a start-up of your own? Work locally or overseas? What is the salary scale and how much of a pay adjustment is reasonable?
Intelligence preparation of the battlefield is therefore vital. Isn't this what you learned in staff school? Apply it to a new situation by tweaking concepts such as EEI, OIR and so on for an accurate, relevant and timely view of the world outside your camp's fenceline.

3. Precision strike versus carpet bombing
Armed with an awareness of what's out there and the market value of your skill sets, you need to make your move and time it well. Should you carpet bomb potential employers with your cover letter and resume? Or are you the sort who executes a precision strike to a potential employer? Precision strikes may be better because the effort expended is more focused as there is more discipline involved in sense-making opportunities for the desired outcome.

Bear in mind that by the time an organisation has to publish an ad for an open position, its recruiters would have expended some effort in finding a candidate through a job search that is often low-key and unpublicised. This ties in with the earlier point about intelligence preparation of the battlefield and networking so that potential employers have you on their radar. Ping/transmit actively, but not so often it comes across as off-putting or desperate.

4. Dress the part
Not sure how to write a compelling resume? Try Google and take your pick from the different styles and formats available online. Just as a job seeker would put in effort to dress up one's qualifications, some SAF Regulars neglect looking the part when courting the corporate sector. Unless you're going to be the boss of your own company or intend to join a free-wheeling start-up, you may want to blend in with how executives typically dress. Eyeball how corporate types (men and women, as appropriate) dress for work and update your wardrobe as necessary.

In my time with an Integrated Resort and my current position, I have had the privilege of working with SAF alumni who successfully made the transition to new careers. The skillsets they bring to both organisations reflect well on their time in the SAF. This emphasises the value that the private sector accords to people who have earned experience serving a large, operationally-ready and technically-advanced organisation with demanding requirements such as the SAF. 

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