Although a life in the military comes with its own set of unique—and incredibly difficult—challenges, the civilian work world is a whole different ballgame.
Veterans hoping to pursue a career after retiring or being discharged from the service run into all sorts of strange new tasks and assignments. Office life, with its own protocols and hierarchy, can seem like a foreign place.
But if you want to make strides in a non-military job, it is important to avoid these common mistakes vets make in the workforce.
Judging “Rank” by Appearances
In the military, rank, position and authority are often easy to visually decipher based on uniforms, special badges or medals. Oftentimes, senior officers are older than lower-ranking service members, and have paid their dues and served their time. But in the civilian world of work, you can’t judge a book by its cover. A senior executive may very well be five or 10 years younger than you. Your boss or CEO could wear jeans and a T-shirt to work.
Don’t ever jump to conclusions or make assumptions based on appearances. It’s important to spend time observing your co-workers and superiors when beginning a new job. Quickly figure out who you need to “report” to and show that person or people the same amount of respect you would a higher-ranking officer.
Trivializing Workplace Problems
Yes, many veterans come back from deployments with a lot of traumatizing, life-altering experiences. After being exposed to war and bloodshed, it may be difficult for veterans to care about seemingly unimportant tasks such as filing correct paperwork or finalizing PowerPoint presentations. But in the world of business, paperwork and presentations matter.
Understand what makes the company you work for successful and then figure out ways to contribute to that success. Don’t compare the tasks and assignments of your job to the missions that you were responsible for in the military. Find ways to work closely with others and use the unique skills you learned in the military—such as discipline, drive and teamwork—in your current career.
Not Understanding Health and Financial Benefits
In the military, you likely received one standard benefits package. But in the civilian work world, you have a lot more choices. Your company may offer several types of health packages to choose from, or you may need to shop for your own insurance using the new health insurance exchanges that are a result of the Affordable Care Act. Your employer might also offer a 401(k) plan or stock options. Understanding what is available to you will help you plan a healthy future—both physically and financially—for you and your family.
Talk to Your HR representative
Make sure you ask questions about benefit plans and packages. If your company works with a financial planner, ask to sit down for a one-on-one consultation so you understand your options. Don’t be turn a blind eye to your benefits.
Telling Everyone About Your Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Only a small percentage of veterans struggle with PTSD. If you are one of them, you know that veterans with PTSD are fully capable of functioning and excelling in civilian work life. Oftentimes, former military members feel like they are required to inform their employers and their co-workers about PTSD. But some people still hold stereotypes about the disorder and oversharing could lead to potential biases or unnecessary complications in workplace relationships.
Unless you require special assistance for your PTSD—such as frequent breaks, the assistance of a service animal or time off for weekly visits to a psychologist—you don’t have to share your diagnosis with your employer. As long as you’re able to perform your duties and get your work done, there is no need to mention this personal information.
Failing to Ask Questions
In the military, you may have been the leader of the pack—someone who gave commands and orders, who knew exactly what needed to be done. But in an entirely new career, it may take a while to learn the ropes, especially if you haven’t had the traditional job training of others in your company. But don’t let a macho attitude or pride get in the way of asking others for help and advice.
The only way you’re going to advance in a civilian career is to learn the skills necessary for success and apply them accordingly. If you’re confused about a project, ask a co-worker to take some time to help you. If you need to understand how exactly to advance your career, schedule some time with your boss and ask him to give you some direction. Even if you don’t know the location of the bathroom—by all means, ask somebody! Most people in your company will be more than willing to offer tips, advice and insight.