Employers value and increasingly seek what veterans have to offer. But the civilian world is different from life in uniform, so you’ll need to adapt to survive and thrive.
Here are seven things to learn:
Ask what is required
“What I hear from veterans is that in the military, authority comes from rank,” Damon Lembi, CEO of Learnit and author of The Learn-It-All Leader: Mindsets, Traits and Tools, told AARP Veteran Report. “Everyone knows who’s in charge and what happens if their orders aren’t followed —nothing good!”
In uniform, there’s usually no need to negotiate or persuade people — communication is very direct. In the civilian world, it’s more unusual to receive direct orders. Job responsibilities and directions may operate in the gray.
“You’ll often need to figure out what your boss wants and how to manage your time and competing priorities to get it done,” Lembi said.
To succeed, anticipate ambiguity on the job and learn to ask specific questions rather than expecting unambiguous direction.
When you’re in the military, you’re taught that failure isn’t an option. But in civilian life, you may not always land on your feet. Failure is a possibility and isn’t going to be life or death.
Scott Shigeoka, author of Seek: How Curiosity Can Transform Your Life and Change the World, told AARP Veteran Report that failure is “a way to learn and grow personally and organizationally.” He added: “When it happens, stay open to those moments and ask yourself questions like: ‘What could we learn from this failure?’ ‘How will this make us stronger?’ ‘Where do we go from here?’”
Pause and slow down
In the military, most things were full speed — and full mission — ahead. In the civilian working world, you can learn to take a breath to regroup, think more clearly and then proceed, especially at first when learning both the job and company culture may feel overwhelming.
Shigeoka said: “In the civilian world, taking the time to pause and slow down even in times of urgency can help with challenging assumptions, decision-making and long-term focus.”
Expand your network
According to Barbara Spitzer, founder of Two Rivers Partners, a human capital and strategy execution firm, connections and relationships are critical in the corporate world.
Spitzer, whose father transitioned from Army lieutenant colonel to a post-military HR career, told AARP Veteran Report: “It's not only about your performance and living core values, but also about who you know and who knows you, including extending your network across and down hierarchies with clear asks.
“You must hone your interpersonal, communication and listening skills to effectively express your aspirations, thoughts and ideas, show genuine interest and truly connect.”