Ken Clark, 51
The Job: Regional operations director
Ken Clark enlisted in the Navy at age 17, then entered the U.S. Naval Academy two years later and earned his degree in electrical engineering. He quickly moved up the ranks, serving as an officer on nuclear-powered subs. After leaving the Navy at 29 he became a financial consultant, then tried his hand at pharmaceutical sales and eventually started his own automobile transportation business. When that went under with the auto company bankruptcy filings in 2009, he reinvented himself once again, becoming regional operations director of a secure document storage company.
In his current role, he oversees 27 different facilities and about 450 people. "Our challenge as a business is that paper is not growing as fast as it once was," says Clark, 51, who is based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. In addition to those industry pressures, his company was recently acquired by a larger one, raising the question of whether jobs, including Clark's, will be eliminated.
Clark loves his current job, but he wonders how much longer it will be around, and whether he needs to prepare for his next step. He and his wife, who doesn't work outside the home, continue to support their three children. One is a senior in high school, another is in college and the oldest graduated from college and is now at home and job hunting.
He wonders if he should invest more time and energy in networking, perhaps making use of his Navy connections. At the same time, he doesn't want to give up on his current job, which is a great fit for his skills. "I don't know if I will lose my job, but there is the potential," he says. "At our age, you're senior — you're talented, knowledgeable and have good judgment, but you're not the cheapest person to employ, so how do you leverage your relationships and contacts into yet another transition?"
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Occupation: Vice president of the local chapter of the Naval Academy Alumni Association
"It's a rare mix for an engineer to also have entrepreneurship skills," says Perrien, who is also the founder of a career planning service focused on Naval Academy grads. "Ken understands Wall Street and can manage a balance sheet — he manages it all like a complex submarine." Perrien says that no matter what the economy throws Clark's way, he's confident that he will land on his feet.
Occupation: Career Coach
Before making any moves, Clark should spend time considering his priorities. "He needs to decide what's important to him — make a list of what he cares about, and then work toward it." Since Clark is happy in his current job, Wolfe says he should continue to excel at it while also working to improve his networks by volunteering with local organizations. "Ken has to be careful not to be labeled as a job hunter. But volunteering is a good way to keep that network fresh," says Holden Beach, North Carolina–based Wolfe, who is the author of Out of Uniform, a guide for veterans transitioning into civilian careers.
Clark plans to hold onto his current job as long as he can, while networking and doing volunteer work through the local chapter of the Naval Academy Alumni Association. "I'm a leader and decision maker, and from that standpoint, I enjoy being able to make a difference and find ways to improve processes, as well as coach and mentor people who are just coming up in the business," he says. "That has value and meaning to me." Still, he's keeping his eyes open to the ways his industry is changing so he can be more aggressive about his job search if necessary.
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