- The Essential Military-to-Civilian Transition Resource

Career Coach's Corner: Use military stereotypes to your advantage

by Tom Wolfe, Career Coach and Contributing Editor

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Tom Wolfe

Congratulations are in order on two fronts. First, kudos to the companies which have been recognized as the 2011 Most Valuable Employers (MVE) for Military®.

Second, you, the reader, are to be congratulated for working smart. Finding a great job with a great company is hard work. You will save yourself a lot of time and money by focusing on companies that already know they want to hire veterans and have already been identified as places where veterans want to work!

The optimism that you feel as you read about the companies featured in this issue is deserved - WOW, you could go to work for one of them! However, it would be prudent to remember that, although these companies have a preference for people LIKE you, you have to convince them to hire YOU.

Interviewers, just like the rest of us, have a tendency to pre-judge others based somewhat upon stereotypes. Companies with a history of hiring separating military personnel use the individual interviewing process to reconcile the positive and negative military stereotypes associated with that population as a whole. Why you? Try these on for size:

Patriotic. Love of country. Desire to serve. Give something back. You do not take freedom for granted.

Leadership. Set the example for others. Empower your people to succeed. Look out for their welfare. Do the right thing.

Management. Frequently responsible for thousands or millions of dollars worth of assets. Accountable for it all.

Flexibility. You change duty stations and assignments often. You often work outside of your academic and/or military specialty. You can change course frequently.

Work ethic. You are not afraid of hard work and long hours. No clock punching for you. Do what it takes to get the job done. Nose to the grindstone. Find a way or make one.

Reliability. Your word is your bond. You can be counted on to be where you are supposed to be and do what you are supposed to do.

Self-sacrifice. Deployments. Harsh working conditions. Family separation. Others before self.

Health and fitness. You never get sick, measured by the number of sick days you take each year. In good shape. Physically fit. Well-groomed.

Impressive! Put yourself in the shoes of a hiring manager - how could you not want to hire someone with all of those attributes? “Why me?,” you ask. Now you know! But wait, before you get carried away, flip the coin and take a look at this alternate view of separating military personnel:

Rigid and formal. Uncomfortable outside of your uniform. Call everybody ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am.’ Have trouble relaxing in a business setting.

Hung up on rank structure. Overly attentive to the amount of metal on the collar or stripes on the sleeve. Superiors and subordinates. How close to the front door of the club do you get to park?

Lack creativity, which may be why you chose the military in the first place. Even if you have a creative streak, it has long since been beaten out of you.

Cannot think outside the box. Rely too much on the “plan of the day,” the organizational manual, and the “standard operating procedures.”

Guaranteed paychecks. Individual compensation is based on “attendance” not “performance.” The best and worst performers make the same amount of money.

Inflexible. Unwilling to take chances. Afraid to make a mistake. Change might be good, but not on your watch. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Autocratic. Do it because I say so. That is a direct order, soldier. People follow you because they might go to jail if they do not.

Would you hire that person? Taken as a whole, this profile would be unacceptable to any organization. Although this negative stereotype contains elements of truth, it can in no way be an accurate or fair description of any single individual in the military. However, the same must be said of all of those positive attributes mentioned earlier. An individual who could live up to all of those virtues would be impossible to find. Reality exists somewhere between the extremes.

How can you use this information? Keep in mind that when you walk in the door for an interview, the interviewer has probably prejudged you to some degree and a large amount of this prejudice is based on the combination of positive and negative military stereotypes surrounding separating military personnel. Interviewers -- at least the ones who know what they are doing -- will try to get to know you well enough to judge you as an individual.

Your mission is fairly simple: reinforce as many of the positive military stereotypes as you can, defeat the negative ones that do not apply to you, and the job is yours! You can further enhance the odds of mission success by focusing on veteran-friendly companies - such as the ones featured in this issue.

Tom Wolfe, Career Coach, is a nationally recognized expert in military-to-civilian career transition and a contributing editor at Civilian Job News. He served as a surface warfare officer in the Navy and has provided career guidance to military personnel since 1978. Contact him via email at

Return to May/June 2011 Issue