By Diane Hudson
Understanding how to operate in a strong, hierarchial, command and control organization is required for success in the military.
That background often provides veterans with an intuitive understanding of how many large corporations, and even many small ones, function.
However, some corporate employers actually function very differently from the military structure, even when they look the same.
The different functions, expectations, and responses can cause miscommunication for both parties.
Here is a basic description of the structure differences. Of course, exceptions to every rule do exists, but these describe the basics:
You are familiar with the consistent military method and structure for consistent operation:
Unfortunately, civilians rarely wear their rank on their shoulders or collars.
Civilian corporate structures are considerably less consistent than the military, normally including these elements:
Quite different from the orderly military structure.
The progression in a career differs greatly between military and civilian:
Typically, a military member rises to the top, based on a career ladder (from enlisted one to enlisted seven through nine within a 20-year career; or junior officer to senior officer) within the same service.
Most often that rise is in the same career field, i.e., intelligence, logistics, aviation, infantry, medical, administration, and such. The Army, for example, does provide opportunities for enlisted soldiers to become Warrant Officers, through a board and selection process.
In addition, some enlisted members will leave the military, attain a college degree, and rejoin as an officer.
The "chain of command" in the civilian world may not be clear. In many organizations, you will have more than one boss -- known as a "matrix." So, if you work in security, you could report both to a "captain" of your shift/department and also to a manager in the legal department.
On the non-military side, the opportunities are much less defined, both inside a company, and -- when reaching for the top ladder-rungs -- when changing companies.
For example, during nine years, one of my clients:
Moreover, within a company, employees can jump from low-level to management, simply based on merit or networking.
Many companies have career field codes. However, typically, they are much more flexible in allowing employees to transfer into new positions, provide the appropriate training, and expect success. (Federal employment is a cross between Command and Control and Collaborative.)
Therefore, you can see that the opportunities are boundless in the corporate side.
On the job, the non-military companies are also less structured, in many cases. These culture differences can cause difficulties for both parties on the job.
Not all veterans adapt well to the more ambiguous work environment of non-military employers -- and they simply need to learn the new culture: ask questions, and absorb the differences. Others adapt quickly and easily, by observing the new culture and learning to speak the new language (non-military language).
Some employers prefer not to hire veterans, simply because they have preconceived notions of their "rigidness."
For example, one of my clients was asked, during a job interview for a director position of an association, "Since you are so accustomed to shouting orders to your subordinates, how do you think you can motivate volunteers?"
My client was able enlighten the employer about his operational style by describing many years of managing volunteers on military installations around the world as volunteers are often the backbone of military bases, providing community services, Red Cross, faith-based organizations, and much more. He educated the interviewer (gently) that he only gave a few direct orders during his entire leadership career, and, when he did, it was in a war zone.
To locate military friendly employers, check out the Top 100 Defense Contractors (especially the ones with the largest dollar volume of prime contract awards), or look for lists of military friendly employers.
Some companies actually have created internal programs to educate military to the collaborative culture and assist them in making the integration to the corporate culture.
For example, Alphabet/Google and Booze Allen Hamilton have such programs because they value the knowledge, experience, and credentials of veterans, but they also recognize that the mindset of a war-fighter is a bit different from that of a business consultant.
To further identify military-friendly employers, type in search words on job boards and search for the following:
Some non-DoD companies include Sprint-Nextel, Merrill Lynch, Troops to Teacher program, Bank of America, WalMart, Lowes, Southern California Edison, Sodexo, and T-Mobile, to name a few.
Understanding that the culture in many civilian organizations can be dramatically different from military organizations, even when hierarchial, is critical. So, research potential employers and carefully ask questions during the interview process to understand your fit with the corporate culture before pursuing or accepting the job.
Job-Hunt's Job Search Expert for Veterans, Diane Hudson is a military transition job-search strategist and career coach. She designs and composes military conversion resumes and helps position service members for employment in corporate or Federal America. Diane holds eight industry credentials including Certified Leadership & Talent Management Coach and Federal Job Search Trainer & Counselor and owns Career Marketing Techniques.