By Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
Veterans who decide to leave the military and transition to a civilian job know to expect some culture shock. But even the best-prepared former service members can find the differences between the military world and the private sector surprising.
Here are some of the biggest disparities between life in the armed forces and life in the cubicle.
1. Your Boss's Name Is Not Sir (or Ma'am)
In the military, a certain amount of formality is required. Most servicemen and -women spend all of about two minutes in boot camp before uttering the word "sir."
Not so much in the private sector, where you won't even be required to call your boss "Mr." or "Ms."
"I interviewed to be a security manager at a different site and I was like 'yes sir, yes sir, yes sir, yes sir,'" says Christine Heinis, a former field radio operator who left the Marine Corps in 2006 and is now a security guard for a financial center. "And the boss actually said, 'You're being too rigid. Can you take it down a notch and maybe call me Joe?'"
2. 10 O'Clock Does Not Necessarily Mean 10 O'Clock
Even when you're stateside, military jobs begin bright and early. It's not uncommon to be at work -- or at least PT -- before sunrise. In the corporate world, the closest you'll get to sunrise is a tequila sunrise at the company-sponsored happy hour.
"When you're in the military, there are very distinct schedules," says Joseph McAtee, a former sergeant in the Army and the communications coordinator for the National Resources Directory, an online portal of 14,000 resources that provide assistance to veterans and service members. "When they say ten o'clock, they mean ten o'clock. In the private world, ten o'clock may not mean ten o'clock."
3. You Won't Necessarily Know Whom to Trust
"In the military, the loyalty and the commitment is kind of assumed," says Doug Perinchief, a financial planner who was a radio technician in the Marine Corps. "Everyone has a common goal or mission. In the private sector, you have to be careful, because you don't know who's trying to take advantage and who's got the right instincts."
4. It's Not Life or Death
It goes without saying that military jobs, even support roles, have serious consequences. Failure to perform your assigned duties in exactly the manner needed at exactly when you're told to can mean the difference between life and death.
"You know that things need to get done and that the cost can be extreme," say McAtee. "That's not always the case in the private sector."
Anyone who's ever spent a day formatting headers on a PowerPoint presentation can back him up. The consequences are significantly less extreme in the private sector, where the worst thing that can happen to you is to get fired. Heck, people can't even make you do a sit-up if you don't want to.
5. You Can Make a Mistake
The upside is that these reduced consequences mean that you can make a mistake in the corporate world, often with little or no fall-out.
"You can mess things up and learn from them," McAtee says. "...There's a space to learn from failure on the private side that doesn't necessarily exist in the military."
Advice for Veterans Transitioning to Civilian Jobs:
1. Find the civilian skills in your MOS (military occupational specialty.)
After a stint in event and wedding planning, Christine Heinis switched careers once more and became a security guard. It wasn't a haphazard decision.
"It's very similar to the Marine Corps," Heinis says. "I wear BDUs, they look like cammies, they're blue. I wear boots. They're bloused. I have to press my uniform daily."
2. Ask for help.
In addition to using online resources like the Veterans Job Bank and the National Resource Directory, McAtee says veterans can find help at the local level for specific occupations, such as Troops for Teachers.
"I know in the military, we talk about setting people up for success, but there's a difference between setting people up for success and then following through to ensure that success happens," McAtee says. "A lot of times those local resources have a greater opportunity because they're centralized as opposed to a federal level resource. Now, I'm not saying that the federal level resources aren't valuable, but you know, for somebody who lives in Milwaukee, that Milwaukee based organization may be [more helpful.]"
3. Start early.
All the veterans we spoke with were unanimous in urging service members to take full advantage of the separation classes offered by their specific branch of the military.
"I would say do a lot of the preparation work prior to getting out," says Doug Perinchief. He worked in the private sector the last three months he was on active duty, trying to get ahead of the learning curve of his new industry. "Try to get that out of the way while you're still collecting a paycheck from the military. And along those lines I'd say stockpile some money. "
Good advice anytime.
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