A few years back I had applied for the TERA (15-year retirement) program the Air Force was offering in order to draw down the force. The numbers did not work in my favor and I was not selected, but I learned a valuable lesson: I was not as marketable as I thought!

With the experience I have had and my level of education, I was expecting employers to line up and start a bidding war over who was worthy to have me on their team. This did not happen and, in fact, I learned I lacked the minimum requirements to even apply to some of the positions I wanted. After I took a step back and allowed for a moment of self-reflection and clarity, I discovered I had prepared myself for what I had imagined others wanted instead of actually was required for particular jobs.

For example, I was looking at a job to become an Operations Manager at a manufacturer in the local area. I blew all of the basic qualifications out of the water and was probably a touch over-qualified in some areas…except for experience writing SQL queries. This position required documented experience in SQL to even apply. So, a job I could have been very good at, was not even an option for me anymore.

The good news is all that you need to know in order to prepare for your dream job is very easily accessible. There is an easy fix for this and it involves Google and foresight. If you have a good idea of what you want to be when you grow up, search for jobs. Read the descriptions from various companies and then seek ways to become qualified in those areas. Here is the job description I described above:

Operations Manager Job Description
Operations Manager Job Description

We need to do this before we are actually looking for a job. Then it is too late to get 5+ years experience, or a SQL certificate. Instead of focusing on the things I thought would make me more marketable in this area like a Six Sigma cert, I could have applied my resources where they needed to be.

One other pitfall we fall prey to is not thinking about where we will be in life when we decide to move on. For example, many maintainers I have worked with over the years said they wanted to use all of their maintenance experience and work for a civilian airliner. What they didn’t consider at 18 was that when they retired at age 38, they wouldn’t really want to be toting tool boxes and crawling in landing gear like an 18-year old.

Instead, look at those who are about to retire and look at what type of managerial role they have and how it could translate to the real world. Then plan to prepare yourself for where you will most likely be in life at that point. Instead of banking on manual labor, are you going to be looking at management jobs? Then check the boxes for that job.

Thankfully, I was denied TERA and it allowed me to learn these lessons in time to prepare for my 20-year retirement and the future career I want. Please, learn from my potential misstep.