Lifetime Career Planning: An Interview with Thom Dworak

For many of us, our careers are part of identity. But just as many of us evolve over our lifespans, so too do our careers. But how do you manage your career so that it is not only professionally rewarding, but personally fulfilling?

Watch this recorded webinar during which Thom Dworak of the Virtus Group returns to:

  • discuss owning your career path
  • explore the different stages of your career – from Academy, Assignment years, Promotional years and Retirement planning,
  • and the importance of truly planning for career opportunities.


Justice Clearinghouse Editors (JCH): Thom, what does it mean to “manage your career” as a law enforcement professional?

Thom Dworak: Hi Chris and it’s great to be back.  What “managing your career” means is having an understanding of your “why” and gives a purpose for where you want to go.  It’s also about having a realistic understanding of how your organization assigns specialty positions and promotions — along with developing the knowledge, skills and abilities necessary to achieve your career goals.

Being able to guide your career helps us towards the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs pyramid Self-Actualization.  It is here, where your why and inner potential meet, in becoming the best possible version of you.  It’s going to take some time, some frustration, the right mentor or two and a little luck.  By actively being in control of your personal and professional development not only makes you a better police officer it will make you a better person.

The reality is, no matter what size agency you work for, there are limited opportunities.  Having a plan to guide your career will increase your potential to achieve your career goals.  While you may have one overall career goal i.e. becoming a Police Chief, that may be 20, 25, 30 years in the future.  A career plan serves as a guide as you grow both personally and professionally.



Having a plan to guide your career

will increase your potential to achieve your career goals.



JCH: Why is career management becoming a more prominent or important topic to justice professionals now?

Thom: I believe we are at a crossroads moment.  Officers who were hired under the COPS program are reaching retirement age along with those who are leaving the profession as the private sector jobs are more readily available.  Add to that the current socio-political climate in the United States has led to a reduced applicant pool.

These events are causing a leadership and experience void in the law enforcement profession, along with finding qualified applicants in significant numbers to replace those who are leaving the profession.  Many of our departments are going to become very young very quickly.

I look at this as an opportunity to those who are preparing themselves for it.  Departments are having to adjust how they fill specialized assignments.  Positions like Investigator, Field Training Officer or SWAT/Emergency Services that may have excluded those with less than 4 or 5 years of experience are now being opened up to less-tenured officers.  If your career plan included one or more of these and you worked the plan, the better your opportunity for the position.

Also, and I’m speaking in generalities here, the organization will only provide the training that it is required to.  But that doesn’t mean the individual cannot seek out additional training opportunities.  It may require some acceptance of rejection and a little perseverance to keep asking to go to particular training.  Always make sure to include how the training is going to benefit the organization and your personal and professional growth.



This is an opportunity for those who are preparing themselves for it.



JCH: What are the most common mistakes people make regarding how they think about their career?

Thom: Well how much space do we have?  Just kidding.  While there are many, I’ll reduce it three that revolve around the abdication of control, mindset or motivation.

What I mean by the abdication of control is giving control of your future to the organization.  I see this most often when the subject of training comes up.  The usual response I get about training is “If my agency wants me trained they’ll send me.”  Depending on the size of your agency, this means you’re only going to get the training your agency deems necessary.

Another is that we are terrible for a profession as a whole at admitting we may have personal gaps or “weaknesses”.  We all have them, some more than others.  The biggest developmental stumble I see occurs when these weaknesses are identified and the individual does nothing to address them.  Admitting weakness requires two things a growth mindset and vulnerability.

As for motivation, we hear the catchphrase all the time “Lead by Example”.  While it can help, motivation is very much an intrinsic quality.  The intrinsic side is your “WHY”.  In our live training classes, I ask the attendees, “WHY” they wanted to be a police or corrections officer or Field Training Officer or Supervisor?  The responses are wide and varied, but overall many state that they ‘want to help others” or “turn out better trainees.”  Very few answers are self-centered, they have an outward-looking focus toward those they serve or the training they are providing for their organizations.

A good resource for understanding your why is the book “Start with Why” by Simon Sinek.  It serves as a good introduction to understanding and being able to communicate your why to yourself and others.



Whatever you choose to do post-retirement,

choose wisely, but make sure it’s something you love.



JCH: One of the phases you talk about is the Retirement Phase. Beyond the financial planning aspects, what do you mean that people need to think about this phase of their career?

Thom: There’s so much that goes into this.  But the planning should really begin at a minimum of 5-6 years before your final 10-42.  Now if you’re going to retire and not work again you probably can stop reading right here.  But many continue to work post-retirement.

Those approaching retirement need to look at how they can move forward into this new phase by asking some questions and doing a career inventory. Start by asking what are you good at and what do you “ENJOY” doing.  It may be investigations, project management, public information or training to name a few.

Next, where can you best apply your talents? With another agency, academy, private sector or personal business.  Each has its own advantages and disadvantages and questions that need to be answered to meet your own secondary career goals. I have my own training company, work as a Senior Instructor with The Virtus Group and as Adjunct Faculty for a local junior college with the academy I teach at is located.  I’ll expand a little more on this during the webinar.

To backtrack a bit here, let’s go back to the career inventory. First, if you don’t have one, put together a resume.  Gather up all your training certificates and advance/specialized certifications. I recommend beginning a career resume.  It should include any and all training you have attended or presented. A list of all specialized assignments or promotions you have attained.  Any special projects or task force assignments, along with articles you have authored.

If you are considering consulting or training as your post-retirement job, what’s your niche? I have a dual niche, Use of Force and Field Training.  There are a lot of retired and former Law Enforcement officers of all ranks who do some type of Use of Force training, consulting and expert witness work and I do it through my own personal business.  But I am better known for the training and consulting I do for The Virtus Group (Inc) in field training.

But the point is, I had a plan to help keep me focused.  And even then, the plan had to be changed or altered more than once.   Whatever you choose to do post-retirement, choose wisely but make sure it’s something you love.


Click Here to Register for “Career Planning: From Academy to Retirement.”




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