Sunday, February 18, 2018

Life After Law Enforcement: Do I Stay Or Do I Go?

I was working on a bunch of CFP responses recently and during that process I found one that was rejected (so, so bitter…) by a major digital forensics conference in 2013. I won't say the name of the conference but it rhymed with "CEIC 2013".

The write up that I submitted for the talk was:

"This PowerPoint-free presentation will provide law enforcement officers who are contemplating pursuing a career in private sector digital forensics with the information they need to prepare and be successful.  It will cover how to best prepare for a private sector career as well as the pros and cons of the different options available.  We will also talk about topics such as resume preparation, interview strategies and private sector compensation models."

Since I’m back in the blogging game, I’m just going to do this presentation as a series of blog posts.  From hell’s heart I stab at thee CEIC 2013 CFP approval committee…. unless you turned me down because I inexcusably didn’t use the oxford comma in my CFP. If that was the case, all if forgiven because I clearly deserved nothing better.

The first decision that law enforcement people need to make is the classic one asked by Mick Jones and company in the 1980s.  If and when to leave law enforcement depends on a myriad of personal and professional variables, but the general advice that I give police officers is simply this:  If you are happy and you know it, stay right there.

Taken as a whole, the grass isn’t greener in the private sector compared to the public sector. There are advantages and disadvantages, but if you’re happy doing what you are doing and the compensation and benefits are working for your family, there isn’t any reason to bail out. I’ve seen plenty of people regret leaving law enforcement chasing money because they had a pile of cash dangled in front of them.  In some cases, I’ve seen people return back to law enforcement after spending time in the private sector and there isn’t anything wrong with that.

Money certainly can be a compelling reason to head off to the private sector especially if it’s in such an amount that will change the lives of your family and what you can provide them, but you also have to look at the total compensation package because there is more to compensation than just salary.  For example, many private sector health plans are much less robust than what one can get in the public sector.  High-deductible plans with high monthly premiums have been a trend in the private sector and can eat up quite a bit of that sack of cash you were offered.   It’s also very important to keep in mind that most private sector jobs in the digital forensics world are going to be salaried positions where you aren’t eligible for overtime and comp time even if you traveling and working long hours sometimes during nights, weekends, and holidays.

What I tell people is if they are happy in law enforcement, the private sector will still be around when they decide it’s time for different challenges.  It’s not that I tell people that they shouldn’t cross over, but that doing it to primarily to chase money when they are otherwise happy in their work is likely a bad idea. The bottom line is that if you are chasing money and making that the primary focus of your decision to leave, you could very easily find yourself in a situation where you are making better money, but you are profoundly unhappy. It’s not worth it.

All of that said, I’ve known many people who have left law enforcement either early in their career or after a fully-vested retirement who have been very happy with their decision and thrived in the private sector.  I’ve mentored and even hired many of these people over the years. Some of the greatest people in the industry have been people who have left law enforcement for the private sector.

The people who I’ve seen most happy with their decisions to leave law enforcement were the ones who felt that they had hit a plateau in their careers and felt stagnated and unhappy in their current role.  These tend to be people who want to do more and learn more than they can in their law enforcement job so the idea of greater challenges, an actual career path, and more money makes for a compelling reason for them to make the move.

The career path aspect has been one of my greatest recruiting tools as a hiring manager. Stupid work rules are meat on my table when I come looking to lure some unhappy law enforcement border collie over to the private sector.  I adore dumb work rules such as ones that prevent skilled digital forensics officers from getting promoted unless they’re willing to go back to patrol or, even worse, the jail. Dumbness like this has been one of the greatest recruiting tools I’ve been given by the government sector. From the bottom of my heart to the improvident lackwits who came up with these ideas, thank you.

My advice is if you are considering making the move, you should start talking to people who have already made the move, people who have left and come back, and to as many hiring managers in the private sector as you can.  The networking that you’ll be doing will also help in landing that private sector job if that is the path you choose. 

Even if you aren’t considering making the move yet, one of the best bits of career advice that I ever received was that you should always be preparing for the next job even if you aren’t actively looking for the next job. It’s smart to give yourself as many options as you can even if you are happy in your present situation.

The next part in the series will be a blog post that covers the pros and cons of various private sector options.  As the series progresses, I’ll cover things such as networking, training, certifications, interviewing, resumes, formal education, and more.  If you have questions that you would like to have answered, you can reach me through the usual communications methods I have listed on the blog.