10 Tips for Veterans Entering the Workforce

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In 2012, nearly 30,000 U.S. troops will be withdrawn from Afghanistan. Upon returning home, many will leave military service to enter the civilian workforce. While many businesses will jump at the opportunity to hire veterans, the difference between military and civilian communication styles can make the transition challenging for both parties.

Here are 10 tips to help ensure new veterans make a smooth, successful transition to corporate America.

1. Stand out from the crowd.
Individuality is highly prized in successful private sector organizations. Be sure to highlight your unique talents and strengths during interviews so an employer can see how you would enhance their team. Blending in won’t do you any favors.


2. Disagree in an agreeable way.
Organizations aren’t looking to fill their ranks with “yes men.”
In fact, groupthink is considered deadly in the private sector, and those who challenge ideas respectfully and thoughtfully are often considered invaluable. When you see things differently, describe your viewpoint without making anyone wrong. Employers will come to view you as someone they should have at the table.

3. Communicate directly.
Rather than information flowing up or down a chain of command, direct communication is required in organizations. Address issues one-on-one in a timely and thoughtful manner. Fellow employees and supervisors alike will appreciate your candor, and these direct conversations will help you to build important workplace relationships.

4. Praise often.
Frequent recognition is key in developing and sustaining positive working relationships. Don’t wait for “big wins” to pat someone on the back. Rather, acknowledge contributions on a regular basis. Positive reinforcement will build rapport with your team, and serve as a strong motivator.

5. Develop leaders, not followers.
In mentoring or leadership positions, focus on drawing out the insights and perspectives of your employees before jumping in to solve the problem. Allowing others the opportunity to build problem-solving muscle will develop future leaders, ensure that employees feel heard and appreciated, and will reflect highly on you.

6. Involve others in the decision-making process.
Getting to “ground truth” when making key decisions is an essential function in today’s business climate. Seek out multiple perspectives when considering decisions that will impact other team members or business units. Taking the time to get it right will pay off in spades down the line.

7. Delegate clearly and generously.
The notion of “command and control” in corporate America is nearly obsolete.
Gone are the days when a leader pulled the trigger and sent the troops off to execute. Give direct reports varying levels of decision-making ability with clear direction as to where and when they need to report back to you. By joining in the strategic process, rather than just execution, they will gain fulfillment by actively participating in the organization’s collective success.

8. Don’t be afraid to fail.
One of the toughest transitions into any new job – whether it’s transitioning from military to private sector, or even a new position within the same organization – can be gaining the confidence to make your own decisions. When unsure, ask your supervisor to define the areas where you own the call and then act on it. There is much more leeway for errors in businesses big and small. In fact, it’s expected.

9. Ask for what you need.
In the civilian world, there is no “standard issue” to equip you for every occasion. Rather, you are expected to speak up and be proactive when a need arises. Employers appreciate team members who are self-sufficient in driving their own success, and who actively seek to do so.

10. Emphasize relationship over rank.
People don’t follow people because of rank or title. They follow those who inspire and value them.
That said, barking orders will result in your career having a very short shelf life. Place utmost importance on your relationships and earn the respect of your colleagues on a day-to-day basis.

As you can see, many hard and fast rules that were essential for survival in the military are the antithesis of how to navigate the halls of corporate America. Adjusting your strategy to suit your civilian comrades while remaining true to your team and objective will result in a smooth, successful transition.

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