If you are a military veteran, you already know that returning to civilian life can be a bit of a shock. The “real world” seems like a chaotic mess; utterly devoid of order, discipline, or teamwork, and seemingly run by a completely different set of values and rules. It’s easy to feel lost and adrift, a lonely lifeboat in an ocean of confusion.
However, it may come as a bit of a surprise you to know that your debut on the civilian scene may be somewhat of a shock to your potential employer as well. The vast majority of Americans (over 97%) have no military experience at all, which means their only window into the military world is likely to be blockbuster movies and television shows.
Predictably, the picture most civilians have of us is spotty at best. As far as they know, you simply went away for a number of years, and now you’re back. In their minds, you marched around a lot, got yelled at a lot, then went to some exotic foreign destination where you randomly saluted people, wore a spiffy clean, pressed uniform, sat behind a desk drinking coffee, and periodically ducked bullets and bombs whenever you went on a super-secret search and destroy or rescue mission (cue commercial).
In other words, most civilians have almost no clue what military life is really like, what you’ve persevered through, what you’ve accomplished, or who you’ve become. If you are to now become a successful veteran job candidate, it’s up to you to bridge the communication gap with more than the occasional war story. You’ve got to be able to tell them, and show them, what you‘re made of - without intimidating or scaring the bejeezus out of them in the process.
After more than 25 years of “re-civilianizing” as a veteran employee and business owner, I’ve learned quite a bit about the mismatch that often happens when we make the transition from warrior to workforce. The real root of the problem is a built-in miscommunication: the same Federal government that works so hard to turn a raw recruit into a into strong, focused, mission-oriented model of efficiency and effectiveness in six weeks of basic training, has no incentive whatsoever to provide them with a “civilian boot camp” on their way out the door.
In fact, it’s easy to assume that those with strong military values are automatically among the best citizens by default - and of course, many do seem to be.
But the re-civilianizing process doesn’t just happen naturally, just like becoming a military professional didn‘t happen naturally. Many of the laudable traits instilled and reinforced in us during our military career have left us quite unprepared for a world where individual accomplishments are often celebrated over the success of the group, team sacrifice is often considered weakness, and the profit motive is the prime directive.
Your veteran status you’ve already earned, but civilian status still has to be learned. - Lance T. Walker, USAF Veteran
It takes conscious effort, time, and accurate information to gain a balanced perspective and turn ourselves into the successful, accomplished civilian citizens we are capable of being. The challenge is, the information you need is not readily available or buried in a sea of useless data and there are, unfortunately, plenty of unscrupulous people out there who are all too eager to exploit a perceived vulnerability for their own social, political, or financial gain.
There is a remarkable difference between being “former military” and becoming a “successful civilian with a military background“. As I like to tell my coaching clients, “Your veteran status you’ve already earned, but civilian status still has to be learned.” In my opinion, a person with both tool kits is much more confident, sure footed, well rounded, and flexible. They are much more able to quickly and easily deal with any life situation in the most appropriate way possible.
My mission is to share with you some of what I’ve learned during my 20+ years of re-civilianizing, so you can avoid some of the struggles and mistakes I‘ve made along the way. I also hope to pleasantly surprise some employers, recruiters, business owners, and human resources professionals in the process. Many of them are very interested in hiring veterans, but need some clear insight into what it really means to be one in order to make the connection successfully.
Fortunately, a civilian boot camp doesn’t require “breaking you down to build you up.“ The goal is not to replace our military thinking habits, but to augment them so we are able to function more effectively as complete human beings in a variety of life situations. In my work as Managing Director of one of the most popular veterans’ career resource sites online, WeHireHeroes.US, I’ve found there is actually no shortage of employers willing to hire qualified veterans.
There is, however, a communication gap that often causes both groups to feel misunderstood by the other. Employers and veterans have a lot to offer each other, and I’ve found that both parties are usually eager to make the deal. By opening a window into each other’s worlds through the CivilianBootCamp.com project, I hope to help make that happen much more often - with lasting success.
Excerpted from the upcoming ebook, “From Warrior to Workforce: 10 Things Veterans and Employers Need to Know About Each Other”. Reserve your free copy at http://CivilianBootCamp.com.