Leaving the military culture -- with its rules, standards and processes -- and entering the civilian workforce where nothing seems consistent can be a seismic shift. Not only will the language, priorities and work style look vastly different from what you experienced while wearing the uniform, the way you're managed and directed can feel strange, too.
To set yourself up for success, start off your new relationship with your boss by clarifying a few things that will help you onboard and contribute at your best levels.
1. You Care About the Meaning of Your Work.
Share with your boss that you're accustomed to feeling a strong connection to purpose in your work. During your time in the military, you committed to serving a mission that was about much more than yourself.
Today, your work might be less high stakes than what you did before, but if your employer can enlighten you on the impact or purpose of what you're working on, you'll attach to it in more meaningful ways.
For example, say you're working as a customer service agent for a financial institution. Your job is to handle inbound calls from customers concerned about their billing statements, portfolio results and financial options. Sometimes, your calls are pleasant; sometimes, the person on the other end of the call is upset.
This type of work can be stressful, but the impact of your work is not typically life and death. If your employer shows you how your handling of these calls, managing these customers and resolving these concerns creates a safer environment for the customer, makes them feel valued and appreciated, and gives them the ability to provide for their family, you likely will find it easier to navigate the challenges and attach your work to your sense of service.
Communicate to your boss that when you understand the why of your work, it will help you do your job with more passion and conviction.
2. You May Ask More Questions than Your Peers.
It should go without saying that if this is your first post-military job, you'll have more questions than others. Still, mention it to your manager or boss. Remind them that your work before was similar in some respects (perhaps the technology you used is the same, or the type of projects was similar), but this is all very new to you.
Your boss will likely encourage you to ask questions as you have them, and your responsibility will be to learn from the answers you receive. Here's a way you can bring this up to your employer:
"As you know, this is my first civilian job after the military. I'm excited about the ways I'll contribute and the things I'll learn. I'd like to feel confident asking questions as I go and will do my best to consider your schedule so as not to be disruptive. I'll also be taking notes on what I learn so I can grow fast in this new role."
Phrasing your comments as positives (you'll show how asking questions benefits your employer, because you'll contribute more as you learn) and saying that you'll be sensitive to timing (and not interrupt your boss when they're on deadline) is a great way to start a working relationship.
3. Some Habits Will Take Time to Break or Modify.
Your employer may bristle the first time you address them as "Sir" or "Ma'am" and may even encourage you to drop the titles. But after several months of asking you, they could lose patience if such formality does not align with their company culture.
Remind your boss that the habits you learned in the military, such as being early for meetings, addressing people by "Sir/Ma'am" or using last names only, can be tough to modify or abandon. Let them know you're aware that they could be confusing to your civilian colleagues and clients, and you're committed to working on changing them.
No one expects you to be perfect on Day 1. Showing that you're focused on being a team player, adding value to the organization and living up to the cultural standards of the company is important to communicate early on.
A change from the military to the civilian sector can bring up confusion for you and your new employer. Taking a proactive step to communicate early, show your commitment to the new job and set yourself up for success will aid your transition.
The author of "Success After Service: How to Take Control of Your Job Search and Career After Military Duty" (2020) and "Your Next Mission: A personal branding guide for the military-to-civilian transition" (2014), Lida Citroën is a keynote speaker and presenter, executive coach, popular TEDx speaker and instructor of multiple courses on LinkedIn Learning. She regularly presents workshops on personal branding, executive presence, leadership communication and reputation risk management.
A contributing writer for Military.com, Lida is a passionate supporter of the military, volunteering her time to help veterans transition to civilian careers and assist employers who seek to hire military talent. She regularly speaks at conferences, corporate meetings and events focused on military transition.
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