5 Ways for Veterans to Grow Self-Confidence at Work

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(2nd Lt. Christopher Carranza/U.S. Air Force photo)

During a recent mentoring call with a Marine who left active duty five years ago, he shared, "I feel like when I was in the military, I knew what to do and how to do it well. Today, I struggle with understanding what I do well, where to go for help and why they even hired me."

Confidence comes from feeling sure of yourself, your qualities and abilities. If you are sure, then you can promote and communicate that confidence to others to grow your career. While you may have the required skills and competencies to perform your job functions adequately, struggling with self-confidence can undermine your ability to leave a lasting impact.

Here are the tips I shared with that Marine:

1. Inventory Your Successes.

Do you keep a "kudos file?" I do. In fact, I have a physical one for all the accolades I receive in the form of letters and note cards and a digital one in a folder in my email. When I've done something impactful or meaningful and someone comments, shares or notes it, I save it.

When my confidence flutters, I reflect on those notes and remind myself that I've made a difference to others. This builds confidence.

2. Enlist Allies.

Even at work, we need supporters, cheerleaders and allies who'll have our back and lift us up. Do you have people at work you trust and who know what you're capable of? If not, find them.

Enlist them to remind you of the difference you make, the skills and talents you offer the team and company, and why you're valued at work. You might feel vulnerable the first few times you ask for this support, but it's needed.

3. Grow Your Skills.

Remind yourself that when you showed up for your first day of basic training, you didn't know how to do your military duties. Today, you're in a completely different job, company and culture, and it requires skills and training you might not have. While you were hired to perform specific functions, consider upskilling in areas that will build your confidence as well as your value to the company.

For example, learning effective communication skills, how to manage up and across within an organization, executive presence and other relevant soft skills can increase your confidence at work.

4. Check in with a Mentor.

If you have a mentor at work, discuss your concerns with them. Let them know the times and circumstances that lead you to question your competency and feel less confident. Since they work for the same organization, your mentor can help you navigate those situations and set yourself up for success.

If your mentor is outside of the company and is also prior military, lean on them to remind you of the many differences between the military and civilian business culture, work style, priorities and more. Your mentor is further along the path than you and can show you how your role and skills today will serve you as you continue to grow your career.

5. Contribute or Lead.

If you're feeling a lack of confidence because you believed you'd be leading others through battle, perhaps check your job description. Were you hired into a leadership role or a contributor role? They are very different roles in many companies.

If your role is to contribute to the overall success of a project or team, then be a great team player. If you're in charge and leading the effort, be great at that. Remember that because you believe your leadership skills gained in the military make you valuable, your employer might value your ability to work as part of a team (not the one in charge).

There are many reasons for your self-confidence to wax and wane during your career. If you believe you've been hired into the wrong role, don't have the skills or training needed to do the job, lack supporting resources or aren't happy with the work environment, discuss those challenges with your manager and see whether there's a solution to be found.

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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