We all have an online and an offline personal brand, which is the summation of our reputation, what our bosses, and colleagues say about us, our career activities, our writing, the images associated to us, and the comments that we make on other people's work. The personal brand is the essence of who we are when we are not present in the room. Personal branding is vitally important to military veterans and active-duty military because often times it is the first and last impression that we leave with current and potential employers. A strong personal brand is a signal to current and potential employers that we are a person worthy of their time, focus, and attention. A weak or non-existent personal brand means that they should move on to the next candidate.
We need to remember and embrace some of the lessons of battlefield excellence that all-black military units displayed during World War II. The perseverance, professionalism, courage, innovation, and sheer guts of all-black military units are significant for a number of reasons. First, the U.S. military was extremely segregated and maintained a structured system of bias toward blacks. Blacks were initially placed in non-combat specialties such as cooks, drivers, and orderlies and they were given second-class equipment and sometimes ineffective combat training. Second, unlike all other military personnel, blacks were told that they wouldn’t and couldn’t be good soldiers.
When I left active duty the first time, I had just completed a second company command and had been selected for a very interesting position at the Pentagon that included a fully funded graduate school program. Additionally, I had nearly five fantastic years in a Special Forces group. For a company grade officer, it really didn’t get much better than that. So when I left the military, I felt like the world had ended. For four months, I was miserable. Business school was incredibly hard — try being an Special Forces officer in an advanced accounting class and you will see what I mean. Furthermore, I began to doubt myself, my skills, and what my future would bring. What changed for me after a few months of hard work and several attitude adjustments from my wife was when I began to realize that my military skills, my attitude, and my personal beliefs were making things better for me and bringing me opportunity and success.
As the Joni Ernst imbroglio of what is, is not, and what should forever in the future be considered a combat veteran comes to a head, we seem to be missing a much larger issue: We, the veterans community, are splicing the value of military service into impossibly small segments of false hierarchical value of what it means to be a veteran.
I remember one of my first interviews as a first-year MBA with a major, international automobile manufacturer. I did horrible ... horrible. My responses were unstructured, I did not translate my military experience at all, my communication style was stiff, and I expected the interview team to have extensive knowledge of special operations. I was the only member from my business school that did not get a second-round callback interview.
Most veterans and military personnel remember their first military training experience with pride and dread. Pride in successfully completing their first military experience and dread from being so new and unknowledgeable when they got to their first unit. However, by only remembering the negative consequences of being a “boot,” we forget what being a boot really did for us to make our military career successful.