Employers have many reasons to want to hire military veterans entering the civilian world. Vets are disciplined, educated and well-trained to understand and comply with policies. But it’s no secret that military work environments operate very differently than civilian places of employment.
After spending years working for a branch of the armed forces, it can be a challenge for vets to switch into “civilian mode” again. So it’ll pay dividends for employers to learn about those challenges in advance, so they can plan ahead and make things smoother for everyone!
Let’s present a few examples of this in miniature case studies, to make things more relatable and easier to picture.
1.) Understand Their Lingo
Tina is a retired military member, applying to work at a local company. Her first hurdle is the application process itself. Her résumé cites military acronyms she forgot to spell out, and jargon she assumes “everyone knows,” because she is from a world where everyone would know. But the company’s Human Resources staff is looking at Tina’s application, and they have no clue what the applicant is talking about!
The worst part is, Tina is simply trying to explain that she has a skill set and experience which perfectly matches what the employer is looking for. But because of a minor “translation” issue, this information isn’t conveyed properly. Tina is marked as an unsuitable candidate for the job.
Suggested Fix: Alert your HR staff to notice when an applicant states they are a veteran. Reviewing veteran résumés may take a little reading between the lines. For those employers with the time and inclination, O*Net Online offers a handy military “crosswalk” tool which helps translate military lingo into civilian terminology, so résumés like Tina’s don’t get lost in translation.
2.) Understand They’re Adjusting
Josh entered ROTC straight out of high school. After commissioning, he served for eight years as a military officer, leading troops to daily success in their unit mission. He won several awards, and his troops always did their best working for him. But Josh decided to get out of the service.
He attended a one-week Transition GPS (Goals, Plans, Success) class, which included an hour-long résumé workshop. And his polished résumé got him an interview… the first civilian job interview he’s ever had, in fact!
That’s right. Despite four years of college on a military scholarship and eight years of active duty, he has never been through an actual job interview.
Having no idea what to expect, Josh goes in nervous and unprepared. The hiring manager asks Josh about his greatest weakness, so Josh fumbles, trying to be honest because it is in his nature to be frank and objective. Another person in the interview asks him how he handled a difficult situation at work, so Josh launches into a story about a rocket attack in Baghdad.
He’s actually fully qualified for the job, but the questions throw him for a loop. The hiring committee decides to pass and go with the less qualified internal applicant who has been with the company for years.
Suggested Fix: An in-person interview can be particularly stressful for a person who has never been through one, or hasn’t experienced one in several years. Letting all candidates know what to expect at the interview goes a long way. Many companies even send the questions ahead of time, which is especially helpful for vets like Josh, who like to plan things out.
3.) Understand They Are Driven to Perform
Shawna was a combat-hardened medical technician who ended up being medically retired from service. With her solid background and nerves of steel, she easily landed a good-paying civilian job. She was a fast learner and within her first months was able to not only accomplish her daily tasks without help, but was actually doing them better than some of her co-workers.
Meanwhile, those co-workers have noticed that she is always ramped up. She operates at a fast pace, is critical of errors and sometimes behaves like she wants to take over the place. Also, Shawna has been known to let out an expletive or two at work.
Her military experiences have conditioned her to want to do things correctly, and with a sense of urgency which may not apply to her new civilian job. Meanwhile, she is mildly annoying her peers with her drive and occasional lack of protocol.
Suggested Fix: This can be handled through feedback sessions which praise Shawna for her work, while frankly directing her to understand the work climate she’s now in. If you explain the mission parameters, she’ll meet them. It may take time for her to adjust into the right gear, after years of serving in a more high-stakes work environment.
4.) Understand How to Keep Them Engaged
Graig loved his twenty years in the military, but the deployment tempo was keeping him away from his family too much. Reluctantly, he got out… but had no clue what he wanted to do in his “next life” as a civilian.
In the service, he’d attained a relatively high rank and was used to being in charge of personnel and processes. After retirement, he felt somewhat adrift, but decided to take a job which seemed to be a good fit for his background.
Graig has been at this job for nearly a year now, and is performing well. But something’s missing, and it is obvious he wants more responsibility. He has trouble sitting still, and tries to engage in situations which aren’t really in his lane. His boss notices that Graig is a real stickler for adhering to every rule, which isn’t a bad thing. But he wasn’t hired to do quality assurance, and some workers are getting frustrated.
Suggested Fix: It’s likely that Graig is being slightly underutilized and needs more to do. He’s very efficient, which creates a lot of free time for him, so he wants to use this to find ways to improve processes. When this happens, find ways to tap into it. He’s bringing years of process management experience to the table, so channel his tendencies to productive use!
5.) Understand Their Candor and Return It
Lisa knows we all live in a politically correct world, but the military culture is still ingrained in her despite being out of the service for a few years. She’d joined at an early age, and spent over a decade being shaped by the various pressures of mission requirements, which just didn’t allow for any “beating around the bush.” In other words, she gained a tendency to be blunt and forthcoming.
This doesn’t mean she’s not diplomatic, but when people ask her opinion, she actually gives it to them because that’s how she was trained. To make things better, Lisa believes we all have to be honest and objective. So, she is!
By the same token, she does well when people respond to her in a similar fashion…but many of her peers prefer to talk “around the subject” instead of confronting an issue head on. Her supervisor, especially, tends to be the avoidant type, so this leads to some stress between them.
Suggested Fix: Many times, people tend to be shy when talking to others, because they are trying to be sensitive and understanding. But to truly show sensitivity to a veteran means holding a dialogue in the zone where they are most comfortable, i.e. in an upfront and transparent manner. It won’t hurt their feelings, it will instead lead to more productive discussions! They just want clear guidance, so they can get the job done quickly and correctly.
Though this list isn’t all-inclusive, it offers many valuable insights into the mindset of former service members. Every person is unique, but veterans have shared backgrounds, experiences, and training which stamps their personalities… sometimes for life. Knowing how they approach things will greatly help employers who want to benefit from the diligent work ethics and energetic attitudes vets can bring into the work center!