By Barbara O’Neill, Ph.D., CFP®, Rutgers Cooperative Extension, [email protected]
Personal Financial Management (PFM) program personnel often counsel military families about career transitions, particularly service members who are leaving active duty service and transitioning to civilian jobs. The type of job that someone has is strongly related to their personal finances. A job determines income, fringe benefits such as health insurance, retirement savings opportunities, and where people choose to live.
Generally, the highest-paying and fastest-growing jobs require advanced education, technical training, or skills that are in great demand. Continuous inservice training is a necessity in many fields. Many younger workers will change careers four or five times during their lifetime and hold a dozen or more different jobs.
As their employment situation changes, workers face a variety of decisions related to career transitions, income, benefits, and relocation. Financial implications also need to be carefully considered. For example, a raise in pay may not amount to much if someone has to move to a high-cost area.
Below are six career transition recommendations to share with transitioning service members:
Prepare Yourself for Career Advancement
Stay current in your field with trade journals, professional meetings, certification courses, college degrees, and the like. Develop a reputation as a leader and a doer and cultivate mentors who can provide advice, feedback, and role modeling. Think of yourself as a self-employed contractor who must constantly demonstrate value to each new employer.
Assess Your Employability
Start a file to document job performance successes (e.g., promotions, awards, publications, and successful projects). Make a list of experiences, transferable skills, strengths, and weaknesses. Seek opportunities to learn new skills, take risks, join visible project teams, and fill in job experience gaps. Prepare a one-page resume that emphasizes your skill set.
Look Before You Leap
Calculate the impact of a new job on personal finances. Items to consider include: changes in commuting costs and time, flextime and telecommuting policies, fringe benefits offered by a current and new employer, retirement savings plans and employer matching, pension vesting requirements, and opportunities for future advancement. Many career development specialists advise against changing jobs without a pay raise of 30% or more, especially if it involves relocation.
Do Salary Due Diligence
Check Web sites such as Salary.com and JobStar Central for information about the earnings potential of various job titles. For non-profit managerial positions, check the non-profit’s 990 form at GuideStar for the salaries of previous employees.
Roll Over Retirement Savings
Keep your TSP balance tax deferred with one of three options: former employer’s plan, transfer to a new employer’s plan (if allowed), or a rollover IRA, which provides the most investment choice and control. When unsure about how to invest the money, consider placing it temporarily in a money market fund until you can explore your options.
Weigh the pros and cons. Being willing to relocate can enhance prospects for employment because you are “casting a wider net.” It is not without its trade-offs, however, including differences in living costs and family resistance, especially if a “trailing spouse” has to find a new job or school-age children don’t want to leave friends and activities. There are also intangible financial costs to consider. For example, if you are moving away from family members who provide unpaid support services (e.g., child care), there will be a financial loss when these services must be purchased in a new location.
Negotiate the terms of a new job carefully. If a company states that they do not have a policy or money to pay moving expenses, ask to be added to the payroll before actually starting work, which will provide the needed funds. To analyze the financial aspects of relocating, free city-to-city comparisons of living costs can be found on the Web sites www.homestore.com and www.bestplaces.net