We made the decision, for whatever reason, to serve in the military. We did what 99% of the population either cannot or will not do. We accomplished great things, endured hard times, possibly lost friends along the way, and some of us have even shed blood for this great country of ours. Many of us joined the military during a period of extended conflict and often continued our service past the initial term, and for that, we should be commended. However, just because we served in the military doesn’t mean we are entitled to anything after our service has ended.
Differences Between Deserving and Entitlement
Webster defines the word deserve as “doing something or have or show qualities worthy of.’ Webster defines entitlement as “the belief that one is inherently supposed to have privileges or special treatment.” It can be very easy to confuse the two words, but they couldn’t be more different. You absolutely deserve to find a good job, make good money, have awesome benefits and live in a nice home. I believe that mostly everyone deserves these things, but we aren’t entitled to it. Don’t misunderstand me, because you should be proud of your service and know that people, generally, do appreciate it. However, just because you served does not mean you are supposed to have a guarantee of success after the uniform, especially if you haven’t planned for it. Let’s examine some of the misconceptions of “entitlement creep” that can sneak up on us during the process of leaving the military.
Misconception #1: I’m Unique
As I stated before, we did what most of our fellow Americans didn’t or couldn’t. In the military, some of us decide to undertake some of the more “clandestine” or “high speed” jobs and missions. If this is you, you’re certainly elite among the already unique, which makes it easy to carry this attitude into the transition from the military. The reality is that in the civilian world, you’re just another face in the crowd.
When it comes to looking for, applying to and interviewing for jobs, we aren’t elite or unique. Competition is fierce and includes everyone else that is leaving the military at any given time, recent college graduates and experienced professionals. When it comes down to it, employers will want to know how your experience will help their bottom line and help the organization achieve success.
Solution: Instead of attempting to use the fact that we served as the launching pad into a great civilian life, we should highlight and effectively communicate what we did in service and how that can benefit an organization. Getting a degree and/or certifications in your desired field can go a long way toward finding your success after the uniform and can be done before leaving the military.
Misconception #2: The Civilian World Needs to Adjust to Veterans
I think we can all agree that military life is vastly different from civilian life. Everything from mentality to lingo could be worlds apart. One mistake that many of us tend to make is the belief that the civilian world needs to “adjust to us.” This couldn’t be farther from the truth. I’m not talking about making special accommodations for a wounded warrior in the workplace. I mean mentality and thought process. Some of the things we do and say to get the job done in the military may not go over well in the civilian workplace. To my fellow NCOs across the Armed Forces, you cannot give the knife hand to a fellow employee or subordinate and talk to them using “colorful” language. Unlike the military, civilians have the option to quit before they will take what they may consider “harsh treatment” from anyone. In other words, we need to fit into the culture of the civilian workplace.
Solution: From the day of your phone screen to the first day on the job, convey that you are a team player. Let them know, verbally and in practice, that you are now one of them and want to achieve success for the team and, ultimately, the organization. Get to know the people working around you to understand how you can best communicate with them, regardless of whether they are subordinates or co-workers.
Misconception #3: I Don’t Have to Start Over
Honestly, I struggled with this one. I told myself that I won’t have to take an entry-level position anywhere because I have a master’s degree in IT management, a couple of IT certifications and years of experience. Entitlement creep made me think I was supposed to get a mid-management IT position the day after I left active duty. I applied for countless management-level jobs and hardly received any callbacks. Once I came down from my high horse, the job search started to yield more phone screens and interviews, leading to a great job at a Fortune 500 company. It was essentially a paid internship, but it was still an awesome opportunity that eventually led to higher-paying roles. I have a few questions that may help with this particular misconception:
- When initially enlisting in the military, can you come in as a master chief, sergeant major or chief master sergeant?
- Can a new officer come in as the commander of a unit from day one?
- Would you respect a “military leader” without any military experience?
Although not impossible, it’s unlikely that you will start above entry-level at your new civilian job. Salary expectations also plays into this. For example, if you’re making $45,000 a year as an E-4, don’t expect to get paid $90,000 a year on your first job after leaving the military. There are exceptions to this, but don’t count on it.
Solution: Accept early in your transition that you will likely have to start in an entry-level position, but understand that this doesn’t mean you’ll stay in an entry-level position very long. Take the time, do the work and show that you do deserve (but are not entitled to) a more senior position and more compensation.
Be Competitive, but Humble
Entitlement creep and these associated misconceptions can make the transition more troublesome than necessary. Set the foundation of success after the uniform while you are still in uniform. Learn as much as you can and get the education and/or certifications that can set you apart from the crowd but recognize that there is also a fine line between being competitive and entitled. Always be humble and gracious for the opportunities that come your way and know that your first job after the military can be a steppingstone to a great civilian career.
James Payton Jr.2020-02-21T11:34:37-04:00