Transitioning out of the military does not need to be a tricky or complicated proposition. Know that being a veteran in this day in age can be a challenge but know that it is one of your greatest assets. All you need to do is figure out how to best leverage this experience. The following post is Part 2 of a 2 Part Series designed to help you have a positive transition into the private and on track for a successful post-military career. Be sure to read the first post, "Be Passionate and Follow Your Heart", before reading this post.
You are not in the military anymore
I suspect that leaving the military was an easier transition for me than for most. I’m not sure but I always knew that one day I wanted to move on and take on new challenges in the private sector. My commitment was to give everything I had for the first four years of active duty and then determine where I would go from there. And that is exactly what I did. I ended up serving 8 years between a combination of active and inactive time. I also grew up a military brat, so I always had access to the military installations. Not having an ID card and not having ready access to the base was one of the biggest aspects of transition I faced. As a civilian, you just can’t have the same level of access. But, again, I think that’s minor in terms of facing much larger issues of rank awareness and the way you talk among professional peers.
This was probably the first big issue I ran into as I assumed more and more managerial responsibilities. When I took off the uniform, I was no longer Captain Parisot, I became Craig. From my perspective, that was just fine. However, I did encounter problems from some retirees who were more senior in grade that I worked with as peers or who now reported to me. We got crossed with one another quickly when they attempted to “pull rank” in the corporate environment, even if I had more experience than they did on a particular issue. I respect rank and see the purpose of it in the military. The corporate environment places a much higher premium on competency versus age or seniority. Since I separated, I have always worked alongside commissioned and non-commissioned veterans and it’s very rewarding to do so. But, you must be conscious of not falling into the rank trap and learn to respect one another for their character and merits of their contribution. I will admit, this problem has eased considerably as I have built my corporate credentials over the years, but I am confident that without the awareness I am encouraging you to have it would have limited my ability to take on senior management roles.
Talk the talk of the business that you are in
Any business, whether it’s the military, a medical practice, or a restaurant, they all have their own language. In order to be taken seriously in any field you must learn that language – and master it. You need to be viewed and respected as an experienced insider to progress in your career. It seems the longer a veteran has served the harder it is to learn how to speak differently. It’s like learning a new language. But, it’s not as hard as you think. It does require you to be away of what you say. (Unless you’re talking to another veteran, the bathroom is not the head. Get my drift?) You do not want to limit yourself by demonstrating that you don’t have the ability to translate your thoughts and ideas into the language of the industry you are in. Unless you go to work for a company that is 100% veteran occupied, you will be encountering professionals that have spent more time in private industry than you and you need to learn to communicate with them…in their language.
One of the greatest values I experienced in going to business school was in learning the language of business and being exposed to fundamental concepts, models, and topics that businesses face. This allowed me to begin practicing this new language and finding my own voice that successfully blended my military view and leadership experience with this new world of profit and loss. Eventually, this will become second nature but it is a deliberate and committed pursuit.
Building awareness of your surroundings, with whom you are talking and the topic at hand will be your greatest ally in making yourself look like the industry insider you need to be. I am not advocating in any way that you hide your background or that in some way that you need to down play it. No way. I could not be more proud of my service and everyone I know, knows that I’m a veteran. However, my office walls are not covered in every plaque I received, which I am sure is much lower in count than most. I chose to dedicate a modest part on my wall next to my U.S. flag for my commissioning certificate and a small shadowbox. And yes, I do have my mini flags depicting my service and support of POW MIA issues sitting on the edge of my desk. But, that’s it.
I am a veteran, but that’s not all I am and you want your new colleagues to see the whole you. By building awareness of these two issues (rank and speech), I gave myself the freedom to define myself and present the business professional I wanted to be. I also removed the shroud from those around me so that they could see that I was much more than a former Captain and that they were going to be the ones to lose if they weren't able to engage with me in this new corporate paradigm.
About the Author: Craig Parisot is currently the Executive Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer of Altamira Technologies Corporation, a three-hundred person technology company headquartered in McLean, VA. Since separating as a Captain, he has successfully help build and sell two companies and is very active in the not-for-profit and business community in the greater Washington DC metropolitan area. Follow Craig on Twitter @CraigParisot.