Retirement Location Planning: The Geography/Job Search Efficiency Test

March 2006


Randall Scasny

Military retirement is a time of immense change and decision-making. Choosing where to live is one of those big decisions that all retirees must make. And since most retirees are not retiring in the truest sense of the word, and will need to seek professional employment, military retirement location decisions are usually tied to employment.

Yet, for many people, choosing where to live after retirement usually comes down to, "I want to go home." This is understandable.

Everyone wants to be surrounded by old friends and their extended family. But the emotional appeal of "going home" may not always be the soundest choice as far as the potential for post-military employment.

While retirees have accumulated many job skills over the course of their military careers, I have found through working with them in their career transitions that they tend to mistakenly believe they can find professional employment in any geographical location.

Despite all the talk of the "global economy," most economies are local and many jobs tend to gravitate towards distinct geographic areas.

For instance, when we think of San Francisco, we never think of manufacturing jobs; conversely, when we think of Detroit, we never think of Information Technology (IT) jobs, rather, we think of the automotive industry.

(That's not to say these two metropolitan areas do not both have IT and manufacturing jobs. They do. But the critical mass of IT jobs in San Francisco vastly outweighs the IT jobs in Detroit, and vice versa.)

Since successful and quick job hunting really comes down to a numbers game, it's wise to place yourself in an area that has a critical mass of jobs in your occupational expertise.

The rationale for living in an area that is a "jobs" hub for you is:

A critical mass of jobs in any target area increases the likelihood that the most competitive job candidates are already employed and out of the job market, thus, the competition for filling the open jobs will be lower, which will reduce the time for the remaining qualified candidates in finding a new job.

In other words, it is wise to be attuned to the economic geography of where you want to call home after retirement, or the alternative may be a longer than average and, sometimes, arduous job search that usually breeds unnecessary frustration.

The Geography/Job Search Efficiency Test is an itemized, jobs availability quick check I use when working with clients to determine if a particular geographical area has a critical mass of jobs in their occupational specialty.

While it is by no means a scientific test, I have found it to be useful as a planning device early in a career transition to determine if a retiree may experience a job skills/geography mismatch.

Here's how it works:

I have found over the years working with veterans that military job hunts really break down into seven sub-job hunts or campaigns that revolve around thematic focuses. These seven focuses are based upon the speed at which a veteran can find employment. They are:

1. Ex-Soldier Jobs (fastest road to a job)
2. Security Clearances
3. Defense Industry
4. Military Specialty
5. Occupational Specialty (Non-Defense)
6. Federal Government
7. General Employment (slowest road to a job)

To perform the Geography/Job Search Efficiency Test, use these focuses as search keywords and combine them with a "location" keyword when searching for jobs on a variety of jobs-listing websites.

Your searches will return the job postings or availability, itemized across these sub-campaigns in the target geographical area.

Doing these searches over a period of time, say, 2 months, in the 4th and 5th month prior to military separation, will give you a "feel" for what that geographic area has to offer.

I usually have my client do the searches so he or she gets a feel for the local job market while I dig into the documented statistics compiled by the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, which are publicly available at its website ( and statistically valid. Then, we compare notes.

We then discuss the findings and draw some "in the field" decisions about the supply and demand of jobs for his/her occupational specialty in the target area.

I have found that if there are few posted jobs in the sub-campaign focuses that typically are unique to military veterans (e.g., military specialty, security clearances, defense industry), it normally means that the job hunter will have to work harder and take longer at finding a new job. That is, the job search will be less efficient.

Sometimes retirees reassess their location plans after we conduct this quick check test. Other times, they steam ahead and accept the head winds that occur but do so with readjusted expectations.

To explain this test in application, let me go through an example.

I was working with an Army retiree who had experience in TOW, MLRS, and Avenger weapon systems and was seeking a job in Illinois. He also had an active Secret security clearance.

We conducted a job search over the seven focuses, using the following keyword sets. And this is what we found:

Focus Keywords Jobs Availability
1. Soldiers IL Not Applicable
2. Secret Clearance IL Few
3. Defense Industry IL Few
4. TOW MLRS Avenger IL None
5. Electronic Maintenance IL Yes, Many
6. Federal Government IL Yes, Many
7. Management IL Yes, Many

We compared our findings to the Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics for Illinois. Our findings were similar.

We concluded that there was little need for his unique, military-specific skills in Illinois. Thus, for what little need did exist for, say, Defense Industry jobs, the competition would be above average. He would need to focus his job hunt around the themes of Electronic Maintenance, Federal jobs and General Employment (in his case Managerial jobs), which really are not necessarily unique to a military job hunter.

I told my client that I believed he would experience a longer than average job hunt. This brought his expectations into line with reality. He still wanted to move back home to Illinois. And he prepared himself for a longer job hunt.


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