By: Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer
I assumed my life was over when I got fired.
I’d been with the same fire and EMS organization, Chesterfield County (Va.) Fire and EMS, for 26-years before taking my retirement when I became eligible in December 2007. I’d had a great career working at a job I loved as much the last day as I did the first. But I’d been planning for that day for almost 15 years—completing my undergraduate and graduate degree programs and working several staff assignments to broaden my skill set—in anticipation of my 2nd career as a fire chief leading my own department.
Instead, I took advantage of an opportunity to work in the private sector for a small EMS company whose business model focused on non-emergency transports and great customer service. The owner offered me the job of Operations Chief to take over the reins of running the daily business for his 4+ year-company.
It was over in five months. What had seemed like a great fit turned out to be daily “culture clashes” between my boss’ leadership style (honed in the private sector of EMS) and my own (honed in fire-based EMS in the public sector). And so he fired me.
In the seven years since then, I’ve had my employment terminated once more (public sector job in another state) and I’ve been laid off when my contract expired and my employer didn’t have another contract that needed my skill set. (The reality of contract work in the private sector: when the job/project is completed, there had better be more work that needs you or you’re done).
I tell you these things not because they happened, but because I’ve learned a few things along the way that I never would’ve learned otherwise. And I think these lessons can be useful to anyone who suddenly finds themselves out of a job they love. For firefighters and others in the public safety fields, that sudden “end of the line” might be only one significant injury away.
Prepare for Your Plan B Career (Today!)
I loved my jobs, all of them, and I gave 110 percent effort every day. Most of us in the fire service and our brothers and sisters in the other public safety agencies are the same: We eat, breath and live the job.
But at the same time, you’ve got to be investing in your future, a “future” that could show up tomorrow. What job(s) would you like to be doing if you suddenly couldn’t be a firefighter anymore? What type of education or training is required for those jobs? Are there opportunities to volunteer with companies or organizations that have those kinds of jobs where you could get some practical experience?
In March 2015 I wrote an article that posted on FireRecruit.com entitled, 7 truths about fire service retirement. I think you’ll find those “7 truths” to be very useful in developing your plan. But even more valuable (in my opinion) than my sage advice are the 80+ reader comments (By far the most comments any of my work has every received).
I highly recommend reading the article, but also truly taking the time to digest those comments from our brother and sister firefighters.
Learn to Network (Today!)
The first rule of networking for guys: most of our friends and professional connections are aligned with our current job. We tend to forge relationships based on our work because…our work is our sense of who we are, more so than with our female counterparts. We first have to get over that “hurdle” and start creating friendships and alliances outside of our close-knit sphere of work.
Today is when you need to start putting time and effort into building and strengthening your network. When I think of networking I always think of a great line from an old World War II movie where this one G.I. complains every morning at Mail Call that he never gets any mail, to which the corporal in charge of the mail one day says to him, “If ya wanna get letters, ya gotta write some!”
A good place to get started is by establishing an account on-line with LinkedIn, currently the best social media networking platform for professionals looking to network and “stay up” on the professional world. Once you have your account set up, here are a couple of my former blog posts on how to make your LinkedIn profile “sizzle”:
Networking in the Digital Age: How I Roll http://www.fireemsleaderpro.org/2013/08/26/networking-in-the-digital-age-how-i-roll/
7 Steps for Better Professional Networking http://www.fireemsleaderpro.org/2014/08/14/developing-networking-skills-digital-age/
Take More Risks
When you like your job as much as we do in the fire service, it’s easy to get “comfortable.” Everyone likes being in Emergency Operations (or wherever you call the division with trucks and people who respond to emergencies). But taking different assignments around your department is a great way to expand your knowledge, skills, and abilities beyond emergency response stuff.
It’s also a great way to add to your professional network because you’re probably going to meet and work with many different people outside of your department in your community.
Develop a good base resume that you can customize
Early in my job search one of my LinkedIn connections turned me on to the on-line resume service, Visual CV. Now I’m doing the same for you. With Visual CV you can create and store an unlimited number of resumes, each tailored to the job you’re interested in finding. And that’s the key to resumes in today’s job market: your resume is not about your past, it’s what shows a prospective employer how your knowledge, skills, and experience meets their need for an employee.
You Don’t Have a Job, But You Do Have a Future
Before losing that first job, I’d never experienced such a “loss” in my life. I’d been very successful in my first career as a firefighter, advanced through the organization and retired as a battalion chief. Losing that first job after retirement was a huge blow to my ego and my self-confidence.
But I quickly got down to the business of marketing Robert Avsec, Inc., to the working world. Every day, I awoke at a regular time, got cleaned up and dressed for the job hunt working out of my home office (If you don’t currently have your own “space” in your own home, make that part of your planning process. You’ll be more productive than you would be sitting at the kitchen table or in front of the TV).