- The Essential Military-to-Civilian Transition Resource

Management Material: Marketing Your Skills to Civilian Employers
by Carolyn Heinze, Contributing Editor

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Article Sponsored by: The Florida State University College of Business

It's no secret that veterans have a lot to offer civilian employers. Or is it? After all, not every civilian boss is familiar with what, exactly, goes on in the military - and how much responsibility service members actually have, no matter their rank. When seeking a job, then, it's up to ex-military personnel to market those skills they acquired, and demonstrate just how valuable they can be.

Marcea Weiss, author of "Leaving the Military: Your Deployment Guide to Corporate America" (Calypso), emphasizes that the leadership skills that people develop while in the service cannot be underlined enough. Weiss - who held various positions in the Army over the course of nine years, including Black Hawk helicopter test pilot, maintenance manager and training officer - points out that right away, even privates are put in charge of something, and then as advanced privates, they are put in charge of someone. "You're used to leading right from Day One," she says. "It's a good environment in which to adopt leadership skills, whereas in Corporate America, it can take years to be put into a position like that."

Another area where many military personnel excel is planning for the unexpected. "They are trained to come up with a contingency plan: They have a detailed operations order, but if things don't go as planned, they are taught to come up with another way of carrying it out," Weiss illustrates. It's not just about planning for something and then following it to the letter. "A lot of their training revolves around contingency planning and knowing that it only lasts until you get to the beginning of the operation and see how it's really going to go." This, she adds, is linked with another skill: initiative. Once service members devise Plan A and then Plan B, they're expected to keep their feelers out to measure how things are progressing, and they must take the initiative to adjust course as they go along.

Chad Storlie, a U.S. Army Reserve special forces officer who boasts 19 years of service in infantry, special forces and joint headquarters units, and author of "Combat Leader to Corporate Leader: 20 Lessons to Advance Your Civilian Career" (Praeger) notes that oftentimes these skills are acquired during the war gaming process, and that this method applies to Corporate America. "You can run through the if's: If I do this, then I expect that my competitor will do this, and this is how I need to adjust my plan, or this is how I will plan to react," he says, illustrating how this could apply to the launch of a new restaurant. "If I open a new restaurant, I expect my competitor to offer a discount to try to reduce my initial impact. I will, from the get-go, have a loyalty card to build my repeat business right from the beginning." This type of war gaming can be extremely valuable to civilian business.

Another valuable business skill is the creation and execution of standard operating procedures - something with which military members are all too familiar. "Following a standard set of procedures is really how you build quality within an organization," Storlie says. "Having someone who can come in, understand what they're trying to do, work with a team and say, 'This is how I think the process should go, so let's go ahead and try it' is extremely positive for an employer."

So how does all of this translate into language a civilian employer can understand? You've heard it before: Cut the military-speak.

"You need to know how to translate your military skills into words and phrases that a civilian hiring manager will be able to understand," Weiss counsels. As a former hiring manager in Corporate America, Weiss would occasionally interview ex-military officers. While she understood the military terms they were using, she knew that many of them wouldn't survive the recruitment process because her colleagues couldn't understand what they were talking about when they were discussing their prior achievements. Her advice: "Take the acronyms that come up in military and translate them."

Don't, however, go too far: "I've spoken with a lot of veterans who actually got a job because they kept some of that language in there," she recounts. "Some of the unique things that you get to do in the military, you don't do in the civilian world, and many people join the military for the adventure and some of those experiences. We should definitely leave some of that in the interview because it's exciting and it can give you an edge on the competition." To strike that balance, she suggests reading corporate-focused books that discuss leadership in the civilian world to become familiar with the terms that are commonly applied.

One factor that Weiss believes isn't emphasized enough is the concept of diversity. She illustrates her point based on her own experience: "I grew up in a small town in Wisconsin on a dairy farm. We didn't travel much and we didn't get out. I had the urge to see the world a little bit and meet people that didn't act or look like me. The military is a great place to do that." In the military, she continues, one learns how to get along with people from all walks of life - be they economical, racial or social. Not only do you learn how to lead and manage; you also learn how to manage different people from different parts of the country. "You learn that in order to get things done, you can't be worried about little things like how a person looks or if they speak with an accent. You have to focus on the things that you have in common: sharing the mission and getting things done."

And getting things done is something at which ex-military members are extremely good. "You aren't really intimidated by having a lot of work, so a nine-to-five job is not intimidating," Weiss says. "You work long hours in the military, and people in Corporate America work long hours, too. A military candidate is not afraid to put those hours in."

Carolyn Heinze is a freelance writer/editor.

Return to September/October 2010 Issue