- The Essential Military-to-Civilian Transition Resource

Playing to Win - Where military job seekers fit on the team
by Carolyn Heinze, Contributing Editor

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Article Sponsored by: Crete Carrier

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Ever watched a sporting event where you knew, straightaway, that your favorite team was going to lose? My sport is soccer, so it’s what I think of when the star forward is having an off-day, but he’s still hogging the ball; the soon-to-be star forward unsuccessfully tries to get it away from him, delivering it to the opponent; the defenders seem to have forgotten to be united in their defense; and although the mics aren’t picking up the exact words that are spilling out of the frenzied goalie’s mouth, you don’t have to lip-read to know what he’s saying or screaming. During games like this, one wonders: Remind me why these guys are making so much cash?

Where military job seekers fit on the teamApply this sorry display of teamwork to a military operation, and you’re headed for disaster. Apply it to any other business, and at best, it won’t be a very happy place to work. At worst, chances are, there eventually won’t be any business left to lose.

“In the civilian world, the best performing organizations have a participative environment,” says Kim Davis, who heads up the Veteran’s Initiative program at the Cleveland, Ohio-based coaching firm, CareerCurve. “Teamwork is extremely critical and important, as well as individual contributions. Most organizations are looking for someone who is going to be a good fit, and someone who is going to fit the team.”

But the civilian version of teamwork isn’t always parallel to what veterans experienced in the military. “One thing that is really different about the military environment is that people already know what the mission is,” says Lance Walker, a veteran who served in the U.S. Air Force from 1983 to 1987, and a career coach who now heads up “Once you get through basic training, everybody is pretty much on the same mission.”

In civilian organizations, this isn’t always the case: like those overpaid soccer players, coworkers often have their own separate agendas.

“Getting people to work together, a lot of times in my experience, is kind of like herding cats,” adds Walker. “They just don’t take orders well. You have to actually get them to want to do what you want them to do, which makes teamwork a much different looking animal.”

Walker believes that in order for a team to function, leadership must exist at all levels within a company: senior management (which handles business strategy), mid-level supervisors (who oversee tactics), and at the administrative level, which is often on the front lines with customers, and plays an integral role in controlling costs. In the military, he argues, members receive leadership training from the get-go, “because you might be behind enemy lines, or your commander may be dead or wounded,” he illustrated. “It may be up to you to get the rest of your squadron or your platoon out of danger. You’re not just taught to follow orders, you also learn how to give orders, and how to lead.”

With this in mind, veterans should focus on showing employers that they have what it takes to solve problems.

Janelle Moore is president of Federal Concierge, LLC, in Tampa Bay, Fla., a consultancy for businesses selling products or services to government agencies. Under the name Janelle Hill, she has co-authored several books, including “Life After the Military: A Handbook for Transitioning Veterans,” “The Wounded Warrior Handbook,” and “The Military Marriage Manual: Tactics for Successful Relationships.” She underlines that one of the most significant assets that veterans have – and therefore can apply to being part of a team in any organization – is the extensive training they received while in the military.

“Seldom do you see an active duty service person serving more than a one-, two- or three-year tour before they are moved to another job or opportunity, and they move from geographic region to geographic region,” says Moore. “And so, they get more diverse experience. They get a lot of on-the-job training. They are constantly working with different individuals, spanning different languages, different cultures, and different backgrounds.”

What is unique about military job seekers, she notes, is that on top of the standardized training they receive in any number of areas, they also cultivate qualities like cultural awareness.

“Military job seekers, once they leave active duty and transition, they’re more versatile. They have worked for different leaders, they have worked for different managers, they’ve had different assignments, and so they tend to be adaptable, and they tend to be able to function in a climate of change and still be able to take action or initiative.”

Moore also underlines that the stress and pressure that military members are exposed to makes them virtually unflappable in corporate America.

“Many of these individuals have rotated to Afghanistan and into the Middle East theater repeatedly,” she says. “They have had to work and function in a high operational capacity under tremendous pressure, and in very difficult climates and environments. These folks are very well-suited to come in and take command, or roll up their sleeves and hit the ground running, in virtually any environment because they are adaptable and because they have these unique skills.” Deadlines, irate customers or difficult managers – things that many civilian professionals don’t know how to handle – aren’t such a big deal.

The idea of marketing one’s attributes is difficult for many veterans, as is the entire job campaign. While Davis concedes that the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) offers some great guidance, based on his experience on both sides of the fence – recruiting and career coaching – he believes that veterans benefit when they seek out additional resources.

“The veteran needs some additional support that goes beyond TAP to configure and create a job campaign that is unique and specific to them,” he said.

Walker also suggests using all of the social media and research tools that are available to find out: Who are the veterans that own the companies? Who are the veterans that may be in the human resources department or the senior management department at these companies? How can you connect with them?

When Walker transitioned out of the Air Force in 1987, TAP consisted of, as he puts it, a 30-minute briefing, a brochure and a handshake.

“One of the first problems that I had – and it turned out to be very important in the long run – was that I had no idea what my job title was in the civilian world,” he recounted. In the Air Force, Walker was an avionics communications specialist. But he was three years into his transition before, during an informational interview, when he learned that “avionics communications specialist” means “radio frequency technician.”

“Once I started using that title, everything opened up. Within a month, I had six job offers. And I had been struggling for three years, simply because I didn’t know what to ask for,” Walker relayed. “One of the first pieces of advice that I would give to veterans is to get informed about what you actually do, and how that can apply to the market. There is this huge gap: the people coming out with the experience and the education don’t know how to apply it, and the people with the jobs don’t know how to reach the people with the experience. The end result is that you hear things that are simply incorrect from both sides. One side says, ‘Well, there are no jobs.’ Not true – there are tons of jobs. The other side says, ‘Well, we can’t find anybody qualified.’ Not true – they just don’t know how.” He adds that, with, a large part of what he considers to be his mission right now is to connect those two groups of people.

Walker recognizes that for many, the military provides a sense of mission – and not all civilian jobs do the same. “If that’s important to you, then you will want to look for that in the company that you are approaching,” he said. “If manufacturing widgets doesn’t ring your chimes, maybe you shouldn’t look at what job happens to be available. Look at what job it is that you would like to have. As long as you are solving a problem that needs to be solved in that company, people will actually create a job title or position for you. You don’t necessarily have to wait to find out if a position is open.”

Carolyn Heinze is a freelance writer/editor.


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