Starting out in an entry-level role in a civilian organization does not mean that you are settling for a position below your potential. “I have commanded 300 people at a given time … I should be in an upper management role.” I have heard variations of this statement time and time again. You have to realize that being OK with starting at the bottom of an organization is not settling.
The fact of the matter is the numbers will never align in the civilian sector. The other statement is “I am afraid that I am going backward by taking an entry-level role in an organization.” As long as you are methodical on your choice and feel stimulated, it will not be movement backward.
The reality is that there is not any shame in having to learn the nuts and bolts of an organization prior to moving forward, and your position of power doesn’t always correlate. Leadership skills may be one thing, but leadership in an environment that is entirely new is something different. The Marines use the phrase “every man a rifleman” as an indicator that it does not matter what job you choose because in the Marines you are all rifleman first, especially during a time of war. When you start out learning the nuts and bolts of a company, it is best to understand the organization before jumping ahead. (Read: 4 Answers to ‘Why Do You Want to Work at This Company?’)
The questions you should ask yourself before accepting a role are:
- What is my growth potential in this role?
- Will I be stimulated in this position, or soon be stimulated after a period of initial qualifications?
- Will I be challenged enough in this new role? Or will I be challenged in the next step?
- Will the compensation allow me to take care of my needs and maintain a sustainable lifestyle? Will the compensation increase as I gain responsibility?
- If I am put on a leadership track, is the company looking out for my potential so that I do not stagnate?
Being challenged and stimulated in your new position tends to be the most critical aspect of the veteran career endeavors. Veterans will consistently compare how they feel they are challenged to what they did in the service, not wanting to feel mediocre or stagnant. The way to avoid these pitfalls is to examine your career choice carefully and ask the questions above before accepting. Nobody is suggesting that you take the lowest position possible to climb toward the top, but pausing to learn the dynamics of the organization first is not a failure. If you do sufficient research on the company dynamics and talk to employees who have been through the process, it will give you a better idea of what to expect.