Personal branding and reputation management professionals often focus on those individuals who “grew up” in the corporate sector. We often put together programs, posts, articles and training tools to help individuals climb the proverbial corporate ladder, navigating the complexities of self-promotion and career success assuming we all entered the workforce the same way.
A few years ago, I felt compelled to learn how I could leverage my expertise and talents to help returning military veterans with their transition: From service to civilian career. I naively went into this volunteer effort figuring I would simply adjust my jargon a bit, highlight some nuances of the corporate environment, and add some military-to-civilian worksheets to the end of my traditional program.
I quickly learned, back in 2009, that returning veterans — whether they saw active combat, returned disabled, or retired from the military — had a completely unique set of needs and concerns as they pursue a career on the civilian side, as an employee, leader, entrepreneur or other.
The military has a very defined and unique culture, language, structure and educational process. In working with several teams of returning veterans, I have learned how important it is to empower them with the tools, skills, resources and ideas that will help them leverage their success (in service) and ensure they can be relevant and compelling to a new target audience, the civilian employment sector.
Q: How do I make sense of my military experience, knowing that a civilian hiring manager won’t understand?
A: First, it is great that you understand it is YOUR job to do the translating. Hiring managers are too busy with hundreds of resumes to do the work for you. Second, look at the experience, skills, values and talents you have and go above the tactical to the strategic. Instead of saying, “Led 100 combat troops…” emphasize that you have management experience, having been responsible for a team of 100, who reported to you. Be clear and show the relevancy to the job you are applying for.
Another example: Instead of: “Disrupted insurgent operations…” you might say, “Responsible for strategic initiatives that required ability to think quickly, implement strategy and change direction if needed…”
Q: How do I figure out what I’m passionate about?
A: This is the core of personal branding! You must find your passion in order to move confidently and authentically towards a rewarding career. I suggest you think about the times you have felt successful, accomplished and personally empowered. What were you doing? Who were you with? What did you do differently than others around you?
Another way to think about this: If you could do one thing all day, what would it be? Would you work with animals? Paint? Help people with something? Be outside? Write all of these down and see if a pattern starts forming. If you love to be outdoors and with animals, the worst job for you might be a computer job in a large concrete building.
As a veteran, you have served the ultimate sacrifice, for which those of us on the civilian side are grateful. Freedom is not free. As you move through this transition, you will encounter people of varying levels of awareness about what you have been through. Be patient with them, but manage how much detail (and graphic information) you share. Keep in mind, that hiring manager’s only exposure to war time might have been from the nightly news and a few Steven Seagal movies!
Thank you for your service!