Everyone learns valuable lessons in their workplace lives. These may be specific to the job you have, or they may affect your entire career. Some of these are life lessons. As veterans, we all likely remember at least one officer or NCO who changed our world by hitting us with some truth.
The civilian world is no different. From the get-go and throughout your civilian career, you will find these same nuggets of wisdom handed down to you from a trusted source. Like in the military, they will change how you see your job and may affect your career.
1. You Are Starting Over.
This might be the most difficult one for many veterans to accept upon leaving the military. Once you start working in the civilian world, no one really knows what you accomplished during your time in the military. This is especially true if you were working in a different career field.
For one-term enlistees, you must remember that you likely are starting over from the bottom once more. Even if you’re slightly older than your co-workers, you will still need to prove yourself and work your way up. The good news is that the experience and professionalism you picked up in the military usually means you are 39% more likely to be promoted ahead of nonveteran peers, according to LinkedIn’s Veteran Opportunity Report.
You still have to exercise that professionalism, though.
2. There Is No Substitute for Experience.
While you may have some good experience under your belt from serving, it’s important to remember that military experience isn’t everything. Civilians aren’t lesser employees because they didn’t serve, and those who have been working in their career field for a long time have a lot to teach others about the job.
When someone who has been working in their field for a long time gives a piece of advice or offers some tools and tricks of the trade, it’s worth listening to. Even if you don’t want to take that advice, it’s always worth listening to it.
3. Your Customers Pay Your Salary.
In the military, the mission was your reason for existing, for getting up in the morning and for doing a great job. The American people paid your salary because you were trained to do it in any environment and with the worst tools possible, if necessary. And you did it well because people’s lives might have been on the line.
When you get to the civilian world, the life and death aspect of your job likely will be gone. And you no longer will be operating in some harsh or austere environments. This doesn’t mean your work is no longer important; it just means you have a different customer. You will be expected to do good work because you’re being paid to do good work. For those military members inspired by service, working for money alone actually might be hard to take. If this doesn’t motivate you, remember that when looking for a job or a new company.
4. Show Everyone Respect.
You’re building a new network now, and your new co-workers are a part of it, whether you like it (or them) or not. When you get to any new job, especially your first new job, in your desired career field, the network building will begin right away. Consider how you want people to think of you -- because they might be hiring you for a job a few years from now.
Everyone deserves respect, and it’s important to recognize that everyone is forming their opinions of you every day while you’re in the office. So instead of getting involved in office politics or talking smack about bosses or coworkers, just go in there and do a good job.
5. Incremental Progress Is Just as Good as a Home Run.
When looking back on your military service, it might be easy to remember it all as one big event where you absolutely shined every day of your career. That might be true, but it didn’t happen overnight. You worked hard, you made mistakes and you definitely didn’t shine every day. So don’t expect that to happen in civilian life, either.
What you did do in the military was take one step per day toward big goals and a series of big achievements. You would not have been able to hop to repairing an F-22, running a nuclear reactor or fighting insurgents walking right out of high school, so don’t expect to be promoted to management right away in the civilian world.
Give yourself the credit of realizing you worked to get where you are, you made mistakes and learned from them and it all took some time. Just make progress.
6. Take Criticism and Learn from It.
Just like in the military, you will make mistakes. Sometimes these mistakes will seem overwhelming and maybe even career-ending. But careers take a long time, and early missteps are common. But also like in the military, the consequences of making a mistake are only as bad as how you decide to handle that error.
So when you mess up in your new civilian career -- as you invariably will -- decide how you will accept failure and how you will operate in the wake of that failure.
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