by Lea McLeod
Editor’s note: To fully understand and report on the challenges transitioning members of the armed forces face when they search for a job in the civilian world, contributor Lea McLeod of Degrees of Transition interviewed veteran Nick Guidry. Here, and in this article’s companion piece, A Soldier’s Transition Story, Part I: A Strategic Approach to the Job Search, the author tells Guidry’s story.
After growing up in lower-middle-class environment and unable to afford family-funded college, Nick Guidry’s parents invited a recruiter in to “encourage” Nick to enlist in the armed services. A week before his 18th birthday, he was in Fort Jackson, SC, becoming part of the U.S. Army.
His parents’ plan worked! The Army paid for all of the education he now has — bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, and now his MBA. However, Guidry notes, the Army offers so much more than an academic education.
While in the Army, Guidry learned how to become a leader who can impart direction, not just follow orders.
Guidry asserts that Corporate America has the perception that being in the Army best teaches soldiers how to “follow directions,” and that that’s how they’ll contribute in the corporate world.
But in reality, military experience comprises so much more than that. It includes managing people and projects in the most stressful situations, managing to deadlines, and taking part in training so that it becomes tangible in the real world.
Civilians must be careful not to generalize. You can’t look at every soldier as just a soldier or just a military person, Guidry says. Each has his or her own unique capabilities, strengths, weaknesses, and attributes.
How Does Working in a Civilian Organization Differ from Serving in the Military? 8 Challenges Facing Transitioning Military
Guidry, who transitioned to civilian work life in April 2013, cites these 8 points as the major differences from being in military service.
1. Structure vs. Innovation
In the military everything is done by precedence. A step-by-step process governs every activity.
In the corporate world, you have to become innovative, a thought leader.
In his new civilian life, Guidry found the lack of relentless rigor invigorating and cites the liberating feeling he experiences in no longer being in the prescribed environment of the military.
But for many vets, the lack of structure can be hard when they are so accustomed to it. As a result, they might also be somewhat risk-averse because they aren’t familiar with a collaborative and individualized approach to work in which decisions are made independently.
2. Chain of Command vs. Flexibility
In the Army, you have a chain of command and you follow orders.
Most civilian organizations offer a greater capacity to negotiate and discuss assignments, work style, and even virtual work with a supervisor.
In the Army that is not so; a huge appetite for innovation does not exist.
For Guidry these changes are liberating, but he knows that for many, these adjustment may create stress in the transition to a different way of working.
3. Speed vs. Collaboration
In the corporate world, everything seems to move more slowly. Decision points take longer to get to. Guidry sees a bit more analysis paralysis.
In the Army decisions happen fast because fewer people are involved in the decision-making process, which also tends to be more hierarchical.
4. Authoritative vs. Collaborative Communication
The military is home to a number of “driver” or “alpha-dog” personality types, and the style of communication reflects that. Military staff members often communicate with an authoritative flair.
In the corporate world that level of authority does not work. Guidry had to learn how to communicate better with certain people.
“I need this done by X date,” became an ineffective way to communicate.
He studied the various typology methodologies, including DiSC and Myers-Briggs, thus learning how to better understand what others needed, and built relationships to make his communication more effective.
5. Objective vs. Subjective Time Management
In the Army you are always responding to deadlines set by others. Time management is dictated and far less discretionary.
In the corporation, you have to learn how to manage your own time.
The Army conveys the assumption that if you were invited to a meeting, you must be there.
In his current organization, getting invited to many meetings requires Guidry to vet which are important and which are less so. He needs to determine how critical it is for him to be at the meeting.
6. Military vs. Civilian Vocabulary
Guidry also needed to relearn some of his vocabulary for working in big business.
For example, when he asked someone for a “decision point,” or when he asked his boss to “pre-wire” him on the questions she needed answering, he created confusion with his audience with these decidedly military terms.
Both are terms he’s learned to clarify, though at times a veteran might find himself or herself frustrated.
You have to be as clear as possible on what you’re communicating and explain what you are saying, Guidry says. Don’t assume that someone will understand a term you used in the military.
7. Uniform vs. Business Attire
Guidry felt like leaving military life was like taking off one uniform and putting on another.
He had to learn how to dress to fit into the culture after wearing a uniform every day for 10 years. He researched online how to dress at work, as well as what kind of clothes to buy and where to shop.
Every organization is different, so correct attire a matter of adapting to the organization and dressing so that you feel like a professional, Guidry says.
8. Camaraderie vs. Community
Guidry notices differences in camaraderie between military and civilian life. People aren’t as close as they were in the Army.
However, he says, you can still build some caring relationships in the civilian workplace.
Final Thoughts: Making the Transition From Military Service Successful
Guidry feels the transition was not that difficult for him, or his family.
To best transition, Guidry said he relied on the Army adage, Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome, to adjust to what was required of him in the workplace.
In addition, he took numerous steps to prepare him for that transition well before he actually left the armed services.
He values the consistent feedback in his new organization, the positive atmosphere, and the ability to be remunerated for his results. It’s been a journey, and the transition’s been a good one.
Done? Not if you have not read the first part! Go to A Soldier’s Transition Story, Part I: A Strategic Approach to the Civilian Job Search.
Maximize your use of the many no-cost veteran and career resources — including career consulting to resume-writing to job placements. These resources are there to help empower you to success in your transition from military service to civilian worker.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
This article is part of Job Action Day 2013.
Lea McLeod, M.A., is an expert at helping recent grads and young adults Find Jobs Faster. She was recently named a Top 50 Blog for Young Careerists, a Top 100 to Follow on Twitter for Job Seekers, and a Top Resource for Grads and PhDs. She is the author of the soon-to-be-released Resume Coloring Book for students and grads, and is launching The Job Search Lab, to help job-seekers navigate the search with live and online coaching. Connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, and find her blog collection at Degrees of Transition.