A letter to Civilian employers and Transitioning Veterans

At the present time I have been out of the military for about five months and I completed my job search prior to my exit about seven months ago. I am still learning a lot of things about working in the civilian world. Yet I do believe I have had a long enough time to reflect on the actual transition process. I hope  the words that follow help to serve as a guide that reduces friction for those veterans looking to make it in the civilian world. More importantly, I hope it can empower prospective employers to leverage the potential asset they have when a veteran comes in for an interview. This is by no means an exhaustive list and it does not apply to every situation. I believe it is the best I can do in terms of providing a general overview to reduce the difficulty of this transition for all personnel involved.

Veterans First

Odds are this is one of the most stressful situations you will encounter in the near future. For the  past four plus years you have had someone telling you where to go, what your job will be, how you will do your job, and you have been fully trained for everything you should encounter. The world you are transitioning from is very black and white. Let me be the first to welcome you to the world of grey areas. Remind yourself of the following:

– You are extremely resilient
– Individuals far less capable than you are employed and seen as extremely capable when compared to their counterparts.
– Like all of the other absurd nonsense you have dealt with in your life you will figure this out and everything will be ok.

In addition please make yourself very comfortable with the following concepts.

1. You are no longer the big dog on the block.

One of the biggest issues I have with the civilian world is the gap in the delegation of responsibility when compared to the military. For the most part only in the military can you find a 20 year old with four direct reports, a 22 year old with 12 direct reports and, a 25 year old with over 40 direct reports. You would think that this delegation of responsibility would be less when compared to our civilian counter parts since they are not in life threatening situations on a daily basis. Veterans be prepared to swallow your pride and potentially to be given direction from an individual who is younger than you. I’m sorry to say it, but you need to hear it here. Everyone you work with will be thankful for your service but they don’t care what a big shot you were back in the military. You need to reset and restart to earn the respect and admiration you once had.

2. There will not be a roadmap for you.

For the most part every job you have done or every task you have been given, has been completed by someone  before you. The days of asking an individual to send you a copy of work he has done prior are over. Your buddy who got out before you can send you his resume and tell you how he landed a new job but in the end you need to land your own position and reinvent your own career.

More importantly when you do finally land a job no one is going to have a path mapped out for you to see what is required to get promoted. We were blessed that in some positions in the military there was an extremely obvious set of objectives you needed to accomplish in order to make it to the next level. In the civilian world roadmaps exist but they are not a standard template like the ones you are used to. Every successful individual you encounter  made it to where they are in a different way, that worked for them and most likely a way that won’t work for you.

3. You still have work to do.

Finishing your military career is an amazing time.  It is the culmination of the service to your nation. If you are lucky it ended with an end–of-tour award and you were applauded by your peers and superiors for all of your hard work. I was fortunate that my military training provided me with a mantra that I will now share with you. You have never made it. NEVER. Now is definitely a time where you are going to have to work extremely hard to reinvent yourself and become an asset to the organization you join . They want you, but they are also scared that you are set in your ways and will not be able to complete the reinvention process.

Now to Civilian Employers

I don’t claim to be an expert in the way you should handle military personnel. Yet I am a millennial so of course I have an opinion about everything. I am at the end of a two year degree in business administration. That degree is not the be-all-end-all but I firmly believe I have finally begun to understand the workings of civilian organizations. I also finished a six year career in the Marine Corps and  two of those years were spent strictly training me as a leader and an effective manager of personnel.

1. Be willing to take a chance on us.

I can’t tell you the number of potential employers and recruiters I sat down with who told me this, “your soft skills are great and they are something you need but your hard skills aren’t right for the job I have available.” I was blessed to come across my current employer who is notorious for taking a chance on veterans. Taking those chances has resulted in a 13% increase in revenue this quarter, and made them a Fortune 500 company with an 87% approval rating on Glassdoor.

I totally understand that veterans need to develop a new set of skills that will benefit your organization. What you don’t realize is that the military has made veterans extremely good at continuously  learning new skills. Every job change they have requires additional training and consequently  they are highly adaptive. Veterans have a knack for figuring out what a problem is and finding a way to solve it very quickly. They have done this in some extremely dangerous situations and they have been trained to respond appropriately. If you take a chance on them they will either learn new skills and be an asset to your organization or you will have at least given someone a shot who served your country .

2. You need to be extremely direct with veterans. EXTREMELY direct.

We come from a world where people said a lot of things to us that we needed to hear, and they most likely did not take the time to say it in a way that didn’t hurt our feelings. We are thick-skinned and we can take it. Most times we are extremely thankful when you are direct with us about things. Of course we probably aren’t going to take getting yelled at by someone out of uniform but we do just want you to come right out and tell us what is on your mind. If you aren’t direct with us we probably will not understand whatever it was you were trying to tell us indirectly in the first place. That is a soft skill we haven’t yet developed.

The thing I hear from my friends getting out of the military all of the time is that people take them out to coffee and the engagement leads to nothing. If you do decide you can’t take a chance on us that is fine. Please, just tell the vet you are sitting across from that you have nothing for them and no one to pass them along to. We will appreciate your honesty. If you can provide us a roadmap for what we need to do to become more desirable as a potential employee that would be amazing. If you can’t provide that then actionable feedback on our resume or missing certifications is the next best thing.

3. Be patient with us.

I’m not asking you to walk in and molly coddle the vet you just hired or plan on hiring. As a matter of fact, doing so will probably force him or her out the door. If you read the “Message to Veterans” portion of this article you should be able to see that this is a very uncertain time for us. Many of us wore a rank on our collar and a symbol on our uniform that was extremely respected by people the minute they met us. We had a very visible sense of purpose in protecting the American people. We also had a precise idea about how we identified as, A Marine, Soldier, Airmen, Sailor, Coastie etc.

Our struggle to deal with our loss  of purpose and identity has a huge impact on us. Most of us don’t actually realize the impact it has at first. Yet, veteran suicide rates demonstrate that this impact is a serious one. If after a few months we don’t seem ourselves or we look as though we have lost our sense of purpose, keep us busy. We thrive in stressful environments and need to be reminded of our skill-set at times. Of course if it gets really bad please contact their family and get that person help.

My Message To You Both

The military and the civilian world both have their own core competencies that are  mutually exclusive. Military personnel are failing our civilian brethren by not sharing our success strategies with them. Equally the military is failing itself by not identifying successful strategies employed by titans of industry that are applicable in our world. I hope we can close this gap so that America can maintain its proud heritage as the world leader in innovation and exceptional performance. Until we do, let this letter serve as a guideline to start laying a foundation for future collaboration.

Success! You're on the list.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: