The transition from the military to the civilian world is usually presented as a contrast. Civilians are different: they’re more relaxed; you’ll have to tone down the motivation.
There are no uniforms; transition instructors teach you how to dress. Civilians don’t like being yelled at, they won’t work overtime and there’s no indefinable sense of brotherhood.
But it’s not as different as you think. Here are seven ways civilian employment is like the military.
1. You are accountable.
Former service members often lament a loss of “purpose” in their civilian lives. But even if a civilian job has less “meaning,” your supervisor/manager/executive boss still expects you to do it well. As with any new assignment in the military, there are skills to master, publications to study and goals to hit. The consequences of failure may be less dire, but failure to perform makes firing easy.
2. Leadership is leadership.
Military leaders know how to lead: set the example; focus on the mission; mentor, supervise and care for their subordinates; and do whatever it takes to get their job done right. That works in the civilian world, too. The “mission” might be getting the food orders out, or keeping the shelves stocked, or increasing hits to the website; the “subordinates” may be hourly employees or hip young professionals without apparent ambition or motivation. Most people, however, crave inspiration, focus and direction. There are always those few “leadership challenges” who are determined to get by with as little work as possible, but once you realize you can’t PT them or put them on duty, they become remarkably familiar.
3. There is a required uniform.
Wearing a military uniform can be nice because it means you don’t have to think about what you’re supposed to wear. While there are more dress options in the civilian world, you’ll find each job or position has unwritten expectations about dress (if not an actual dress code) and grooming. Whether it’s a suit and tie, a collared shirt and khaki-style pants, respectable work clothes, it’s a uniform. It’s just not prescribed by a manual or an order.
Simple Rules for Workplace Attire: When there is no specific dress code, look around you and match everyone else. If you are a supervisor or manager, then you should wear a collared shirt (polo shirts count) tucked into khakis or slacks, even if the workplace is relaxed. Industrial, manufacturing or warehouse companies often require steel-toe boots and natural fibers (i.e. no ‘wrinkle-free’ synthetic pants). Keep in mind that city downtowns are often suit-and-tie; rural areas are more casual. To avoid taking out a loan for new clothes, visit your prospective place of work before taking the job. Then you’ll know what you need.
4. Courtesy is crucial.
The military has strict rules about courtesy, like saluting higher-ranking officers and addressing superiors with “sir,” “ma’am,” or their rank as appropriate. Therefore it is a little disconcerting that many civilian workers use first names up and down the hierarchy. But how you address (and treat) your sergeant or chief, or your officer, is how you should treat your supervisor and manager.
5. Safety matters.
Ever get frustrated by seemingly endless safety paperwork in the military? It’s the same in the civilian world. Whether you work in an office, a restaurant, a retailer or an industrial plant, there are federal and state safety requirements for everything: protective equipment (PPE), electronics, machines, tools, vehicles and many others. You will likely have to maintain several Operational Risk Management programs wherever you work. And if you’re the team leader, the supervisor or the manager, you get to manage the paperwork.
6. Discipline and initiative are essential to promotion.
The relaxed relationships of civilian companies can hide the fact that employers chiefly value discipline, punctuality and initiative. Those traits are just promises in an interview room, military service or no, but managers are most likely to advance their most reliable employees, because – no surprise here – reliable employees need less supervision and get more done for the company.
7. Nobody really cares about your sea stories.
Remember how nobody cared about your past experiences when you checked into a new military unit? It’s exactly the same when you start work as a civilian.
Professionalism in the military equals professionalism in the civilian world. The consequences for laziness, bad behavior or failure may be less severe, but the components of success are the same.