Four Tips for a Successful Military To Civilian Transition

Military Transition

Congratulations! You translated your military skills to a civilian resume, nailed the job interview, secured the job offer, and are ready to begin your first job as a civilian. Your decision to apply your military experiences in a new civilian position comes at a terrific time, as last month the Department of Labor posted data revealing that Veteran unemployment rate as of June 2017 was at 3.7%, the lowest in a decade. Is it as easy as trading your uniform for civilian business attire? Not quite, but with a few considerations, you can make a successful transition into the civilian workplace culture.

1. An Evolving Professional Ethos

The U.S. Army began it, and most other services have adopted it, if informally. In uniform, you likely identified with the “warrior ethos” and verbally relayed its tenants with others in your professional circles at regular intervals. Is there a place for the warrior ethos in your civilian workplace culture? Absolutely, in the ways that the reflect your perseverance, your ability to adapt to changing priorities, and your willingness to work with others achieve mission success.

As a civilian, if you tout a warrior ethos as your professional brand, you run the risk of confusing or alienating some colleagues. A better approach might be to continue to emulate the traits you value, but be open to other aspects of your new civilian culture. A flexible, resilient professional ethos will allow you to retain the best elements of your military professional values while integrating new essential ones that help you thrive in your new civilian role.

2. The Art of Advising

While serving in uniform, you likely made decisions that subordinates or your team members would almost certainly follow – if not because your guidance was a sound approach to achieve a goal, then because it was a lawful order. In a civilian role, you might find yourself part of a team led by someone with significantly less experience than you have.

Your new situation doesn’t erase your experience; in fact, you were likely hired because of it. You’ll likely reach conclusions faster, identify potential risks of courses of action, or even predict what to you is an obvious train wreck on the horizon. Your ability to serve as a multi-directional advisor will be enhanced by your collaboration skills. This can be one of the most challenging shifts to make, as presenting rationales for arguments and negotiating consensus with subordinates and peers may not have been a skillset flexed daily. But mastering an advisory role will open mindsets for your input to be considered and integrated in your new team efforts.

3. Self-Sufficiency is Survival

Sending Outlook meeting invites, calling in trouble tickets, building orientation or conference books, making copies, clearing copier jams, escorting custodial employees in classified spaces – these are tasks that many who recently hung up their uniform might not have performed in a while, as support staff was at the ready to handle them. Welcome to civilian life, where many positions do not come with support staff and skills must be relearned.

As a young protocol officer, hustling coffee, making seating charts, and sweeping debris from entrances was part of a regular day. Nearly two decades later, as a civilian paid to produce strategic narratives, facilitate dialogue with Congress, and otherwise throw around intellectual capital in the name of national security, I still on occasion performed many of the same hospitality tasks so that senior hosts, visitors, and other professionals could get down to business as efficiently as possible. Rediscover and dust off your inner action officer/NCO again and you’ll be surprised how quickly the skills reactivate. Share your knowledge with others and if you find you are simply inept at an office task, find a colleague to trade duties with -there’s no shame in being the office mate who oils the shredder.

4. Others Have Made the Crossing

If you’re frustrated, missing the mark, or otherwise bewildered about your inability to integrate, you’re not alone. There’s likely someone in your office vicinity who had a similar experience and would be willing to share insights and strategies. While you should never compromise your professional value system to fit into a new civilian workplace culture, there is usually an approach that you’ve not yet tried or considered.

Smart individuals you consult might remind you that those valuable traits you acquired during military service took years to build. Similarly, it might take time to parlay them so they fit in your new role. Give yourself that time, and enjoy the adventure of discovering innovative ways to serve an important mission through a civilian career.

Melissa Jordan is an Executive Writer at a US Government agency. With more than 20 years in professional communication and over 16 years of experience working in cross-cultural environments, her most valuable lessons have been learned by trial and error.