What if I told you that the way others see you directly influences whether they want to hire you? Would you believe me?
What if you learned that you come across as gruff or difficult to people you're trying to network with? Would you consider their opinion of you to be wrong?
What if you learned that much of your transition from the military to a meaningful career in the private sector was stalling, because the people around you weren't clear on what you can offer or what you care about? Would you be motivated to understand the gap?
Humans form perceptions. Without even realizing it, we judge as we create beliefs, opinions, judgments and perceptions about what we see around us. The people we interact with, form communities with, seek to get something from (i.e., a job offer, promotion, connection and more) and those who want to help us, they all believe certain things to be true about us. If what they believe is positive, they will want to support us, guide us, advance and consider us. If their perception of us is negative, they may pass us over.
Perception is a tricky thing. In my work as a reputation management specialist, I've seen many instances where perceptions are wrong, flawed or based on incomplete information. People often have biases interfering with how they assess others and form perceptions about them.
Confirmation bias, for example, leads us to seek substantiation of what we believe to be true, and it can easily sway how we receive information. Anchoring bias can lead us to see something as more valuable simply, because information "anchored" our perception of what a good deal looks like.
Perception is part of our daily lives. As you move from a career in the military to one in the civilian sector, you're navigating perception from the civilians and military community all around you. How someone feels about veterans, the military, war, service, commitment and the cultural norms of what you're leaving is at play as you interact with others.
Understanding how you're perceived by the people around you empowers you to navigate their perception of you. You can't change someone else, but if you understand their biases, have insight into their knowledge and understanding of your past experiences, and can know what drives their beliefs about you, then you can manage the ways you communicate, show up and act to drive the most positive beliefs about you and your value to them.
Here's an example:
Imagine Bob is interviewing for his dream job. On paper, his skills gained in the military, combined with his previous work experience, seem a natural fit for what the company seeks. He goes into the interview with confidence and exuberance.
But 10 minutes into the conversation, Bob sensed trouble. The tone of the interview changed, and he became more nervous and frustrated as his responses seemed not to align with what the interviewer was asking for.
The interviewer repeats her questions to Bob: "Again, what is it about this job that excites you?" followed by, "How would you add value to the team?" To each question asked, Bob offers succinct replies (citing examples from his military resume) and senses she's asking more about his personality now than his skills and training.
If Bob were paying attention, he'd pivot in that moment recognizing that the interviewer's perception of him is not aligned with how he wants to be seen. He'd notice how he'd been responding with tactical answers to questions, instead of describing the experience the team would have working with him. He'd see that her perception of him is not how he thinks he's coming across and that he's at risk for losing the job.
While his answers are technically sound, the interviewer is feeling less and less like Bob would be a fit in the organization and the team. She's formed an opinion of him (one he's confirming) that he's someone who might be rooted in process and not flexible to the emotional needs of people he's talking to. This can be the deciding factor in him getting (or not getting) his dream job.
Perception is tricky, yes, but people give clues about their beliefs and feelings toward us. Bob missed the chance to hear how her questions were being asked, the nature of what she wanted to learn about him and where he could showcase more of his personality to show he's a cultural fit for the company. Listen to how others speak to you -- the questions they ask, the areas they want to learn more about -- and you'll be better able to reflect the genuine sides of yourself they're seeking to understand better.
The author of "Success After Service: How to Take Control of Your Job Search and Career After Military Duty" (2020) and "Your Next Mission: A personal branding guide for the military-to-civilian transition" (2014), Lida Citroën is a keynote speaker and presenter, executive coach, popular TEDx speaker and instructor of multiple courses on LinkedIn Learning. She regularly presents workshops on personal branding, executive presence, leadership communication and reputation risk management.
A contributing writer for Military.com, Lida is a passionate supporter of the military, volunteering her time to help veterans transition to civilian careers and assist employers who seek to hire military talent. She regularly speaks at conferences, corporate meetings and events focused on military transition.
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