Updated: Jan 24
In my last blog I wrote about resume recommendations and focused on the hard way to get a corporate job. When you see a job posting online, in the paper, or through a job search service, you’re already at a disadvantage. Why? You and everyone else are looking at the same position. The sheer number of qualified law enforcement professionals outnumber the jobs available. When you apply “cold,” you’re just one of hundreds thinking they are the one. You start visualizing yourself sitting in that big security director’s office, feet on the table, looking at all your awards and trophies hanging on your “hero” wall, you smell the hot coffee on its way from your assistant… life is good! Now let’s get back to reality, no matter how awesome your resume is, there will always be someone with more experience, education, advanced degrees, certifications, specialties, shot more guns, jumped out of more helicopters, won more awards, has bigger biceps, and published more articles than you.
The Secret Sauce: Reputation
You have to start thinking less about applying for a job and start working on your reputation and networking that will ultimately bring the job to you. Yes, the secret sauce to getting that primo job is “reputation” and “networking.” You’re probably wondering why isn’t competence in the mix. My assumption is anyone with a good law enforcement career is already very competent. Their skills are transferable to the private sector but without a good reputation or network, reliance only on your competency will not get you that dream job easily.
16 years ago, I was awarded with “The Detective of the Year” award from the ASIS Puget Sound Chapter. I never heard of ASIS until learning I would be honored at an ASIS luncheon. I later learned our Chief of Police was a very active member of ASIS and championed Public Private Partnerships. I also found out that the Microsoft Security team nominated me for the award for establishing a strong partnership with them through investigations and crime prevention. My first thought was “what, I’m getting an award for doing my job?” Wow, that’s cool. I’ve always tried to do the best job I could do. You can take shortcuts when you’re tired, or overwhelmed with cases. You can also suck it up and do what your organization is paying you to do. Have you ever worked with a “slug?” You know, the kind of cop that takes shortcuts and is the last to volunteer to take a call or write paper; the cop that is always looking for ways not to do any work at all doing the bare minimum? I’ve worked with a few these cops throughout my 12 years in law enforcement, and if you’re one of them, don’t even think about trying to work in the private sector – you’re going to ruin it for the rest of us – plus you’ll get found out real quick and end up quitting or getting fired.
In the corporate world, people are measured on “results” not time on the job, advanced degrees, past accomplishments, etc… Whether you’re a rock star cop that does all the right things even when no one is looking, or the slug – one thing is certain, your reputation will follow you. With the advent of the web and social media, it’s easy to find out about someone. Have you ever “binged or googled” yourself? Your online profile and information is out there for the world to see. Not all the information online can be factual but that doesn’t matter as what is out on the internet becomes the perceived reality so it’s crucial that you manage your reputation closely, because your career depends on it.
Don’t be surprised that someone you supervised in the police may end up being your boss in a future corporate role. Why does this happen? “Reputation.” I’ve seen this countless times in the corporate world – in fact, my former FTO works for me at Microsoft and I never let him forget that :-).
The Secret Sauce: Networking
Networking is the other crucial component. My golden ticket to Microsoft started with my reputation as a good detective that partnered well with the private sector. I was fortunate to be the “computer” detective so my lieutenant assigned me all the Microsoft cases. After solving many cases at Microsoft, their Corporate Security Team manager asked me if I was interested in becoming an investigator on a new team of former law enforcement officers. They had recently hired former federal agents, and municipal police detectives. They knew my skill set and asked me to apply for their last job opening which came at the heels of a major burglary case at Microsoft that I had just solved. This is where you want to position yourself through reputation and networking where the job comes to you.
Too many people rely on shallow LinkedIn connections and hit you up for a job shortly after you accept. I’ve lost track at how many people will just send me their resume/CV without establishing any relationship. It’s impossible to have a professional relationship with everyone on LinkedIn but I feel there are proper ways to start one. It’s really easy to see and separate the genuine from the disingenuous. For you cops thinking about life after law enforcement, your networking efforts should be high on your priority list. Start locally. If there’s an ASIS local chapter or other security associations, consider joining and learning more about the private sector. Many of your law enforcement roles put you in direct contact with very high-level corporate decision makers. This is where your soft-skills (many forget this) comes in handy. You have to remove your Joe Friday “just the facts ma’am” demeanor and when you start hearing corporate professionals say “you don’t strike me as a typical cop…” then you’re on to something.
Cops love to hang out with other cops. I recall when I was a young officer in the academy, our instructors said do not hang out only with cops so you have a balance of friends. In my early years, I only hung out with cops because I felt comfortable with the tight-knit group. We spoke the same cop-language and had the same type of stories and encounters. What I loved the most was the camaraderie which was unbelievable. Hanging out with only cops runs the risk of cop-group-think and make it harder to integrate with the civilians. You can start getting that “us vs. them” attitude. Start networking with corporate sector people and learning from outsiders – you’d be surprised what’s out there and how awesome opportunities just magically appear if you work on your reputation and networking.