Cost of Living Calculator

Image: Bill Longshaw /

Salary and location are two factors that people find to be very important when deciding to make a career move.  But receiving a job offer with a higher salary than your current military pay doesn’t automatically mean a raise.  In fact, depending on location, it could mean a pay cut!

A friend of mine working with the same recruiting firm recommended the CNN Money Cost of Living Calculator to me.  You can enter your current salary (use a military pay chart and factor in BAH) and location, a prospective location, and it will generate how much more (or less) you would need to live similarly in that new locale.

For example, if you make $70,000 in Evansville, Indiana, but are offered an $80,000 job in Chicago, Illinois, that’s a raise, right?  Wrong.  You’d need to make $86,000 to live to the same standard… and that’s just within the Midwest!

Another thing to consider? Income tax.  Texas, for example, doesn’t charge you income tax at all.  New York, you could be taxed up to 8%.  So that lower salary in Texas suddenly becomes more attractive.


How to choose? Weighing job offers…

Image: jscreationzs /

I’m at the point in my job search, after follow-ups, where I am fortunate enough to have different offers to consider.  But it’s proving to be much harder than I’d thought to choose!  I’m so grateful to have options, but this is a huge step in my post-military career.  How do we make the right choices, especially when aspects of the jobs are so varying… location, cost of living, salary, work culture/environment, job description?

I had dinner with a good friend the other day, and she gave me some sage advice.  A few years ago, she was at a similar point in her life, weighing job offers and trying to figure out what to do with her life.  She said she sat down, and made two lists.

The first, “What are the reasons I would take a job that paid $30,000 a year?”

The second, “What are the reasons I wouldn’t take a job that paid $300,000?”

The answers to these questions will give you insight into what you’re looking for in a job. The first question will yield answers like great work-life balance, passion for the job, and positive culture/environment.  The second will tell you what isn’t good for you in a career, like no free time from work, compromising your integrity, and more.

By knowing what you’d be willing to do for little pay, and what you wouldn’t do even for a huge salary, you’ll have an idea of what your non-negotiables are.

As I consider the options, I’m making a mental list of my non-negotiables.  I want a job, not a career.  I want to develop and grow in a position.  I want to be busy, thinking, creating, contributing… and that is what I am searching for as I make this leap.

Don’t rule yourself out.

Image: jscreationzs /

One of the biggest pieces of advice I have for those making a career transition?  Don’t rule anything out until you have a job offer.  What do I mean?

Say you’re interviewing for a few different jobs, and based on things like salary, location, or position, you’ve decided you like one more than the others.  You focus all of your energy on that interview, and spend little time preparing for the others.

Can you see why that’s the wrong way of thinking?  Look, salary, location, and position are three VERY important things to consider in a job, especially when you’re thinking of uprooting your family or considering your happiness and financial well-being.  But those are important things to consider when weighing job offers.  An interview isn’t an offer, so when you don’t prepare well enough for positions you may be less interested in, you’re not presenting your ‘best self’ to that potential employer.  In this economy, you can’t afford to appear disinterested when hundreds of people are competing for that same position.

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, right?  Go into every interview like it is your #1 choice.  Even if there are some things about it that are less desirable, you’re looking to be employed.  By focusing on every interview, you increase the likelihood of multiple job offers… and THAT is when you get to really scrutinize and choose what you want.

Tuning Out the Noise

I’ve talked before about the unsolicited advice you’ll receive from people as you decide to transition, as well as begin the process itself… but as I go through this experience, the voices just get louder and louder.  And I mean LOUD to the point where you can’t even think straight!  Yikes!  I had to take a step back and consciously share less of my life with friends & family, including online, so I could prioritize my career transition and make the best decisions for ME.

There’s just something about a big change in your life that draws people to you like moths to a flame.  Buying a house?  Everyone wants to talk to you about interest rates, neighborhoods, why you shouldn’t buy, why you should buy, and ALL of the horror stories they’ve ever heard.  Everyone’s suddenly an expert, and you don’t want/need to hear it!

It’s the same as you make your decision to leave the military and pursue a civilian career.  Here are a few of the characters you might run into along the way:

  • The Defensive Careerist:  He doesn’t like that you’re leaving the profession he chose to stay with.  He’ll ask you what you’re up to, as if he cares about your well-being, then launch into some of the most terrifying (and probably false) stories he’s heard of former officers who failed miserably in the civilian world.  Unemployed! Divorced! Bankrupt! Homeless!  DEAD!  Just smile and nod, and steer clear.  He’s just trying to feel better about his own personal decisions by convincing himself you’re going to fail.  Probably jealous, too… don’t let it get to you, or make you think negatively.
  • The Lemming: He wants to know all of your secrets… what companies you’re interviewing with, where you bought your suit, what your resume looks like, what the salaries are for positions you’re pursuing.  Sometimes, it comes from a good place; he wants to make a transition someday, and sees you as a model.  On the other hand, it feels like he doesn’t want to do his homework and is happy to watch you work hard for his own benefit.  (*Note: If you don’t want to talk to the Lemming anymore, tell him to read this blog!)
  • The Expert:  He thinks he knows everything!  He has a civilian job, so he must know way more than you ever could about Corporate America.  He’ll tell you how to interview, where the best jobs are, what you need to study.  And 9 times out of 10, his advice conflicts with another Expert that has popped up in your life.  Thank him for the advice, but take it with an entire shaker of salt.  No two experiences are the same.  Seek advice from trusted mentors in your life, and true experts, not just the people who view you as a naive, ignorant soldier who must know nothing about the real world.  There is SO much oversharing in the world…
  • The Mother:  We all have a mother, but in this situation, we end up with a BUNCH.  She’ll text/call you constantly, when you should be focusing on interview preparation or work.  She asks specifics about the companies you’re interviewing for, then starts blabbing to her coworkers and bragging about you.  Suddenly, you’re getting calls/texts from more Lemmings and Experts, when you never even let them know you were transitioning!  Learn to keep mum.  You don’t want prospective employers hearing through the grapevine what you’re saying, or even the competition for a job.  Shut off the phone, and make sure to keep your important loved ones informed, but not overly so.  You don’t really have anything to tell them until you’ve accepted an offer and you’re hired, right?

Look, it’s great that so many people CARE… but it’s not necessarily going to help you.  STAY FOCUSED and don’t overshare information.  Stay positive, despite the naysayers!  Keep your private business, well, private.  Only share your career move with your outer circle once you accept a job offer, and even then NEVER share specifics like salary.  Cut the negative people from your life, and turn to the people who really do care about your best interest, and YOU as a person.  This transition is a time where you see what people in your life are really on your team.

Have you run into these guys yet?  How do you deal with them?

My First Job Interview!

I haven’t been blogging as much, but that’s because I’ve been so busy INTERVIEWING!  So happy to be taking this next step in my transition.

I’ve actually had about a dozen interviews thus far, all coordinated by my recruiting firm, and I’ve actually been pretty successful.  I was extremely nervous going into it (okay, I may have been shaking!) but I learned a lot about the process.  I’m now working through follow-ups, which is just as daunting but even more exciting.

I’m not an expert by any means, but here are a few of the things I’ve learned/realized during this process that may help you as you make your transition to Corporate America:

My Interview Tips:

  • Dress to Impress.  I really think wearing my suits and looking the part of a professional was an important step, not just to impress the interviewer, but to put myself into the right mindset.
  • Nail the introduction.  Try to learn the interviewer’s first name before you head in, and use it (but don’t overuse it!) throughout the interview.  And introduce yourself right off the bat, with a good handshake and your first AND last names.
  • Smile and stay energetic.  Just do it.  Seriously, otherwise you look disinterested and bored.
  • “Answer the question, and shut up.”  This is actual advice I received from a very successful careerwoman!  Answer the question, Bottom Line Up Front, then go into a concise explanation of what you did to achieve that.
  • Read your interviewer and LISTEN.  Look at their body language.  It will tell you whether you are on the right track, boring them, not letting them interject/talking too much, and more.
  • Prepare questions.  Some interviewers asked me if I had questions, right off the bat!  Don’t ask questions about benefits and other subjects irrelevant to an initial interview.  Ask them questions about the specific job you’re applying for, and ask quality questions.  This was a HUGE trend in all of my interviews.
  • Don’t forget the finish!  When your time is up, don’t just walk out.  Thank them for meeting you, tell them how interested you are, and leave an impression.  Don’t take off, no matter how you felt you did during the interview!

Hiring Our Heroes on NBC

This week, NBC is promoting the Hiring Our Heroes program sponsored by the U.S Chamber of Commerce.  As a result, there have been some great segments on their networks about veterans transitioning to the civilian workforce.  Here are some clips, in case you missed them!

NBC’s Today Show: Hiring Our Heroes

MSNBC: Program helps veterans and spouses with job search

MSNBC: US veterans face return-to-workforce challenges