In the corporate world, transitioning veterans are not that special. It doesn’t matter how many combat tours you completed, how many medals you received, or whether you were in the infantry or aviation supply. Most employers view veterans as though they’re all the same, mainly because they don’t have a solid understanding of what servicemembers do on a day-to-day basis.
Remember that less than 1 percent of the U.S. population has served in the military, so an employer’s knowledge and understanding of what veterans actually do is limited and distorted by Hollywood movies, cable news, and the exaggerated stories they hear third-hand from neighbors or coworkers. Can you speak intelligently about what defense lawyers actually do on a day-today basis other than what you see on “Law and Order?” There are probably not many veterans who can, so don’t think that, as a transitioning veteran, you can throw your military resume downrange and have dozens of companies fighting to hire you.
The truth is, America isn’t at war: the military is. And military leaders don’t explain that to servicemembers when they transition. Most veterans believe that everyone back home know exactly what they do and understand how their skills translate into the corporate world. But not many people back home actually do understand. As a result, the corporate world views veterans as a commodity rather than as individuals with specific and varying skills and experiences.
When you do finally land that first job, you probably won’t be in charge of anyone. You won’t be mentoring other colleagues, influencing operations, or frankly, have responsibility for much of anything except yourself. You’ll most likely be the “low man on the totem pole” so you can learn the technical competencies of your new job. Don’t get down on yourself if you end up being a 28-year-old intern, or if your new boss is several years younger than you and has considerably less leadership experience. Be prepared for this, and don’t take it personally. You have to pay your dues and learn the trade, just like you did on active duty.
In the military, servicemembers never skip ranks. You have to earn each chevron with hard work and experience. Could you imagine if the Army took the honors grad at boot camp and made him or her your squad leader in Afghanistan? There’s just no way that would happen. So why would a company do the same thing with you? You’ll have to take a few steps back in order to take a thousand steps forward. Rarely will a veteran land a civilian job that comes with the equivalent responsibility, authority, and compensation that he or she had in the military.
This is why it’s so important to search for a career and not just settle for a job. If you choose to pursue a job because it pays well or comes with an impressive title, chances are you won’t find the work very fulfilling and you may end up quitting after a few months. Then you’ll be back to square one again.
But if you network with people, do your research, ask questions, and make an informed decision about a career that you genuinely enjoy – regardless of starting pay or job title – you’ll be a happier, harder-working person. And in no time, your salary and responsibility will catch up to the value you bring to the company. Don’t let your ego dictate your destiny.