How To Get Ahead Using Your Military Experience

career
During a team-building challenge, U.S. Army 1st Lt. Alan Roy, right, and Sgt. Luis Garcia crawl through an obstacle course on Camp Taji, Iraq.
Photo by Sgt. Travis Zielinski

Transitioning and advancing in the civilian workforce offers more opportunity than pitfalls for military veterans. The civilian career transition is the opportunity to build on your experience, find a new career, discover a passion in a new field, find a place to call home, and learn how to excel in a new corporate culture. Gallup found that one of the leading challenges for companies is hiring engaging employees and good managers. According to Gallup, “The best managers are gifted with the ability to inspire employees, drive outcomes, overcome adversity, hold people accountable, build strong relationships, and make tough decisions based on performance rather than politics.” Know anyone with these skill sets?


Yes, military service members.

However, one of the areas that can trip up military veterans in their career transition is worrying about stereotypes that civilians-en-masse may or may not have of military culture. Veterans can become consumed with worry trying to anticipate real or perceived stereotypes that hiring managers or their civilian bosses have about military service, post traumatic stress, combat service, political disagreements, etc. One realization that veterans must understand immediately is that we never will be able to cognitively dissuade everyone, in whatever position or capacity, out of stereotyping. The secret is to ignore the stereotypes and focus on your value and what you can do for your new organization.

Related: It’s time to think beyond your MOS.

When I first entered into the infantry and special forces, people loved to joke about my 5-foot-6-inch height --- from behind, I literally looked like a “rucksack with feet” since you could not see my head, arms, or legs. To overcome the size stereotype, I focused on becoming the best. I focused on running faster, being stronger, leading better, and so on. My performance spoke for me and my reputation when everyone on my team stood at least six inches (or more) taller than me. Once I showed my abilities, performance, and passion, my size was never an issue in the field or on deployments. This is exactly what veterans have to do in the workplace. Demonstrate a passion to perform, apply your military experience to your new profession, lead when no one is telling you to, and excel in every area. Sounds a lot like being in the military.

There are steps that you can take immediately to draw attention to the value that you bring to the workplace. First, business people love competitive intelligence gleaned from public sources, but no one knows how to create a business competitive intelligence program. Create a competitive intelligence report and distribute it to key leaders in marketing, sales, operations, supply, and finance. Second, conduct a risk assessment of your workplace to make a safer working environment. Use the standard military risk assessment of identifying hazards and create risk mitigations for implementation. In a day, you can make a safer environment for your company and colleagues.

Think of how military skills can be utilized to train people, engage employees, cut costs, make products better, and help your company react to the competition. These are all abilities that every veteran has no matter rank or branch of service and they will make an immediate impact in a business environment.

In the workplace, how you translate your military experience into competitive work traits matters. What people initially think of you or your background does not matter --- it should not be your focus, so don’t worry about it. Today, start with, “I can do …” and not, “What do people think …” Military experience is a positive differentiator of career success --- make today the first step.

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