So what should you do now?
Well, first things first. Take a deep breath and allow it to sink in. On the day that I was relegated to an early retirement from the NYPD, on a disability after 19 years, 4 months and 27 days, I wasn’t sure what I needed to do, and no one prepared me for what I was going to experience, both mentally, physically and emotionally. I went through the process, appeared at the Pension Section to complete my paperwork and receive some advice regarding my pension distributions as well as Headquarters, where I turned in my shield and ID Card, filled out some paperwork, and took possession of my new ‘Retired Detective ID Card’ and Pistol Permit. It was surreal, yet also so very real.
When I had completed all of the requisite tasks, I walked back to my car, opened the door and sat behind the steering wheel. It was at this time that I felt a surge of emotions. I ran the gamut from nervous to scared, to sad and then happy. Mostly, I felt overwhelmed. A part of me for the better part of the past 20 years was now over. No longer would I get out of bed, drive to Brooklyn and do all of the things that Police Officers of all ranks do. I was now a ‘civilian’ again. Vested “with all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities thereunto appertaining”. I was now free to do whatever I wanted to do. I could smoke a joint, assault someone, even commit a murder and my pension would continue to be deposited in my bank account. I have to say, once I caught my breath and the day’s events sunk in, I felt as if a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I no longer had to worry about losing my job for some ridiculous reason, or because I was in the wrong place at the wrong time, or some politician wanted to use me to score some political points. So, what did I do as I turned the key and started my car? I drove home. No drugs, no crimes, no arrests. Hey, what can I say…..I’m too pretty for prison.
Once I arrived home, I greeted my wife and children. My oldest daughter had just entered the 8th grade, my middle daughter was in 7th grade and my youngest daughter was in 3rd Grade. I had quite a bit of life and the expenses that come along with them ahead of me, and to be honest, I started to panic a little.
We had just relocated prior to my retirement to a town some 200 miles away from New York City, in an effort to find a better place to raise our children. That removed me from all of the connections and contacts that I had developed over the years. I now needed to basically start all over. So I started a business of my own. Things went well and I was able to live comfortably with my pension and the income I was bringing in through the business. Then, a few short years later, reality set in. My oldest was starting out on her college search efforts. I took a look at the costs of many of the schools to which she was applying and realized that I should perhaps think about branching out and finding a full time job with a steady paycheck.
My largest hurdle at that point in time was that I had never, ever, had to interview for a job in my life. I became a police officer, like most of us did, at the tender age of 20 years old, after taking a written exam and a series of other physical and psychological exams.
Fortunately for me, I had a solid resume, which I was able to prepare for myself as part of my retirement business efforts had been earned drafting professional resumes and cover letters for other active and retiring law enforcement officers. So, I did what most people do and I started searching the online job ads. I sent my resume out to a bunch of prospective employers, not really receiving much of a response. The ones that called were generally the places with high turnover, looking for ‘sales associates’ to push their wares.
One potential ad caught my eye. It was for a sales position within a private investigation firm which was located in the same town as my new home. I sent in my resume and received a call from the Vice President, who said he was interested in interviewing me for the position. I got a haircut to clean up my retirement hairdo, dusted off my best suit and shined my shoes, and printed out a few copies of my resume. Two days later I suited up for my interview. My thought process going into this was that I really didn’t want the position, I just wanted to get a few interviews under my belt so that when the right position presented itself, I would be properly experienced and prepared to knock that interview out of the park.
So, I went to the interview and, while it went well, I was told that I “was not salesperson material”. Oh, well, I didn’t want to do sales for them anyway. But I got some great experience, especially regarding what potential employers should not do during a job interview. More on that in a separate article at a later time.
I know what you are all thinking. OK, enough about you. How does this all apply to me? Good question. It sets you up to understand a number of things. How you may feel when retirement time comes around, that there are options and opportunities available to you and there is life after law enforcement. But first, there are several things that you should do before you pull the trigger.
- Get a complete physical examination. Be sure to have all of your blood work performed, cardiac stress test, full body scan, even go as far as visiting a dermatologist to have your skin checked for any moles, growths or lesions. Have any and all conditions addressed and treated before retiring. If you get an all clear, congratulations, you are ahead of the game and ahead of too many others who came before you.
- Secure a Pension Review and determine what your anticipated post retirement pension related revenue is anticipated to be. Determine what the tax liability in your state, or any state to which you anticipate relocating upon retirement. Taxes can take a significant portion of your pension proceeds, so make sure that you know what your take-home will be when the “check of the month” arrives.
- Have a financial review performed by a COMPETENT professional. All too often, those of us in the law enforcement world entrust our tax preparation and other financial management concerns to retired folks who venture out into the finance and insurance industries after retiring from law enforcement. While this is not necessarily a bad thing on its face, it is always best to do some due diligence and locate and employ a financial manager or consultant who has a broad area of knowledge and some wide ranging experience under his or her belt. That said, evaluate your current savings, debts - both long and short term, life insurance needs, long term care insurance needs, other investment vehicles, anticipated large expenditures in your future (kid’s college tuitions, weddings, vehicle purchases, relocation costs, anticipated and unanticipated medical expenses, etc.)
- If you are married, complete a personal review of your marriage and where it stands. It is never a good thing to find out that your spouse has a different take on the state of your marriage than you do, particularly once you are retired and he or she can pull a significant portion of your pension benefits as spousal support. Add to that the potential expenses stemming from child support for any underage children and you may find yourself in a financial pickle once you retire. If there is a chance that your marriage is not on firm ground, consult with an attorney who handles such matters before you submit your retirement papers.
- Whether you are married or not, make a determination as to whom the beneficiary or beneficiaries for your pension will be. Add to that a review of your existing insurance products and the beneficiaries, as well as the persons covered. Medical insurance, automobile insurance, annuity funds, social security account, etc. Determine what coverage changes will take place when you retire. Some benefits may reduce and some costs may increase. Be certain that all of your ducks are in a row, and put any policies or protections in place before you file your papers.
- Conduct an analysis of your monthly budget and determine if you will be able to meet all of your existing obligations with a reduced income, no overtime and the possibility of no gainful employment for a period of time. Ensure that you will not exhaust your savings before you have the ability to replace it.
- Begin your job search efforts before initiating your retirement procedures. It is always a good practice to find a new position before leaving your existing position. Start the process early, reach out to any contacts you may have, let people know that you are anticipating retiring “if you can find a position to transition into”.
- Put a resume and cover letter together. No matter what position you decide to seek, if you are planning on working for someone in the corporate world, or even within the federal system, you will need one type of resume or another. A solid resume, properly formatted into the type of document that most HR Managers are expecting, with the information they want to see in the places they want to find it, will help to set you apart from other applicants. Items listed on a resume should also demonstrate how the work you performed increased performance, had a positive result, or otherwise enhanced the entity for whom you worked. Simply listing job duties will not pass muster and will most likely end up with your resume finding its way into the ‘circular file’. Add to that a properly drafted, job specific cover letter, addressed to the right person, and you can almost ensure yourself a call for a phone interview or in-person interview, which is where you will be able to expand upon the resume and really sell yourself. It is a good idea to outsource the writing of your resume and cover letter to a professional who has the skills and experience to draft a professional document, but who also understands the work you performed in law enforcement and can translate that work into language that the corporate worlds can understand, relate to and comprehend the benefits you will bring to the organization. Those who attempt to draft their own resume oftentimes find themselves lacking in response and ultimately seeking out a professional to make them marketable.
- Apply for a few positions for which you are not overly excited. Take an opportunity to sit through several telephone and in-person interviews. Sit with a friend who conducts hiring interviews and ask them to put you through a mock interview session. Develop and hone your skills, the answers to frequently asked questions, and your presentation skills. It is much easier to sell an item, or to interview or interrogate a criminal, than it is to sit on the receiving end of a job interview. Become as comfortable as you can with the process, develop a list of questions that you would like to ask when the time arises during the interview process, and learn what you should be asking and what questions are not appropriate during each phase of the process.
- Lather, Rinse and Repeat. You are probably going to have to send out a lot of resumes, upload them into Applicant Processing Systems, and speak with many people before you are offered a position. With the large number of highly qualified people retiring from law enforcement over the past 10 years and the large number anticipated in the coming years, added to the number of other unemployed people in today’s economy, there will be a significant level of competition. You need to make sure that you set yourself apart from everyone else and convey through your cover letter, resume, interview skills and personal presentation, that you are the best candidate for the job and a defined benefit to the company.
Once you have undertaken all of the steps listed above, and you are certain that you have addressed each of the concerns identified, along with any other issues that might be specific to your personal situation, you should be well situated to initiate the retirement process and begin the next phase of your life. Remember, there is life after law enforcement and the level of stress relief, freedom and personal satisfaction you can achieve, along with the level of financial compensation you can garner based upon the many skills you have amassed and experiences you have attained, will make you wonder why you didn’t retire as soon as you were eligible. It is time to start earning the kind of money you deserve. Go out and get yours and rest easy knowing that your pension will always be there for you and your family for the rest of your life.