At the first pre-separation counseling appointment, I always asked my active duty clients the following question: “Reflecting on your successful military experience, what strengths do you possess critical to your successful transition?” This question was designed to get them thinking about not just the obvious answers that jump out, such as leadership, work ethic, or specialized training, etc… But to really dig deep. Many service members can relate to and recognize that leaving military service and transitioning to civilian life has significant life-changing implications for them and those around them.
Military experience provides training and work experience valued by employers. Far too often, my clients did not fully realize nor could they articulate the depth and breadth of that military experience, nor did they fully recognize their value to an employer. I would tell them understanding the strengths that they possess is a critical first step in their personal self-assessment. This is a practical and valuable exercise for a successful transition. This article focuses on those strengths arising from military service and provides some thinking points as you do your own self-assessment and reflection.
Working with some of the finest transition counselors across the country and hundreds of service men and women, the following list of strengths was originally developed in the late 1990s, as part of the Army Career and Alumni Program (now Soldier for Life-Transition Assistance Program). This list was incorporated into our Transition Course for Seniors outlining some of the opportunities and strengths acquired and used while in the service. It has been updated and is still widely used today by various veteran-centric organizations in one form or another. I presented this course at the U.S. Army War College and other military facilities around the country.
- LEADERSHIP TRAINING
The military trains people to accept and discharge responsibility – responsibility for other people, for activities, for resources, and for one’s own behavior. This training includes setting an example, giving carefully considered directions, inspiring leadership capabilities in others and continually motivating other personnel. Does this sound like a supervisor? You bet it does.
- ABILITY TO WORK AS A TEAM MEMBER /TEAM LEADER AND GET ALONG WITH OTHERS
Essential to the military experience is the ability work as a member of a team. Almost all military activity is performed with the assistance, coordination, and awareness of other persons or units. Many serve as team leaders where they have analyzed situations and options. They made appropriate decisions, gave directions, followed through with a viable plan, and accepted responsibility for the outcome. Military personnel have worked for, and with people from all backgrounds regardless of race, gender, economic status, age, or religion.
- ABILITY TO WORK UNDER PRESSURE AND TO MEET DEADLINES
One positive characteristic of the military service is that service members must perform. Each must do his/her job, do it right the first time, and do it promptly. Service members continually set priorities, meet schedules, and accomplish missions. Pressure and stress are built into this, but they are taught how to deal with all these factors in a positive and efficient manner. Success in the military is performance based which is exactly how employers gauge success.
- ABILITY TO GIVE AND FOLLOW DIRECTIONS
Military personnel know how to work under supervision and can relate and respond favorably to others. They understand accountability for their actions and for their subordinates’ actions. They also understand and use discipline in their lives and when dealing with others. They have learned to respect and accept authority and leadership.
- ABILITY TO CONFORM TO RULES AND STRUCTURE
In any large organization, and especially the military, there must be standards and structure. Individuals in the service have learned and followed the rules every day in their working environment. While in this environment, they also have learned loyalty to their units and their leaders. Companies always value employees who will be ‘team players’ and who follow the ‘rules’ of the organization.
- DRUG FREE
With an honorable discharge, service members are certified drug free. In today’s pool of prospects, a company looks at this as an enormous advantage over so many applicants that have not served and may have a substance abuse history.
- SECURITY CLEARANCE
Almost all military personnel have achieved some level of security clearance. For many employers, an existing clearance will simplify the process of obtaining approval for a continuing civilian clearance. This clearance can also demonstrate that an individual is recognized as a trustworthy person.
- SYSTEMATIC PLANNING AND ORGANIZATION
Most military operations require thorough planning and workload management. Carefully developed objectives, manpower strength, resources, time schedules, supplies, logistics, and various other factors are always considered. The organization, planning, and overall management are continually being assessed. The ability to participate in, direct, or establish systematic planning is highly valued in business.
- EMPHASIS ON SAFETY
Military safety training is among the best in the world. Service members understand the considerable cost in lives, property, and lost time when safety is ignored. Both the control and the emphasis on safety are valued in the civilian workforce. Safety records and awards are recognized.
- RECORDS AND PERSONNEL ADMINISTRATION
There is always the necessity of keeping accurate records and completing all paperwork. There is also the requirement for accountability. Service members are familiar with all facets of personnel administration and the importance of record keeping and documentation.
- FLEXIBILITY AND ADAPTABILITY
All in the service have learned to be flexible and adaptable to meet the constantly changing needs of any situation and mission. Last minute changes are not uncommon in any military or the civilian working environment.
Many service members understand difficult and often complex issues and solve these issues or problems on the spot without step-by-step guidance from above. This quality is highly valued in the private sector.
Military personnel have the skills, knowledge, and ability to originate and implement a plan of action or methodology to answer and solve diverse challenges and problems regarding supplies, logistics, resources, transportation, personnel management, etc. Often in business, supervisors are asked to just ‘make it happen’ – military personnel know exactly how to do that!
- WORK HABITS
People in the military stay and finish their projects and are recognized for completing their missions in a timely fashion, and in an effective and efficient manner. These work habits are a positive result of the social maturity, integrity, determination, and self-confidence they have developed during their military service. Their military background has instilled pride, enthusiasm, and perseverance for their work. What does this mean to the civilian world? It means the military veteran will finish assignments on time, and to standard, and this strength is highly valued in the civilian workplace.
- STANDARDS OF QUALITY AND COMMITMENT TO EXCELLENCE
Service personnel continually strive to attain and surpass established Standards of Quality for themselves and their units. The Standards of Quality relate to the unit’s mission, training, performance, physical requirements, and educational goals. There is a commitment to excellence in all of these fields. How does this apply in the civilian workplace? It’s called Quality Control.
- GLOBAL OUTLOOK
Many service members have been stationed and have served in various locations around the world. Such residency plus international experiences have broadened their understanding of the customs, politics, economies, languages, and cultures of other countries making them a natural choice for global positions within a company.
- CLIENT AND SERVICE-ORIENTED
Some military personnel operate in the delivery of services. Their jobs are to facilitate, explain, and expedite the delivery of a wide range of customer services (such as administrative, medical, dental, postal, financial and recreational). The private sector also is very much customer service oriented.
- CONCERNED ABOUT THE COMMUNITY AND FAMILY ENVIRONMENT
Service personnel have a vested interest in the areas where they reside. Many are committed to making their locations a better place to live. They are dedicated to the quality of life for their family members and their fellow residents. They participate and volunteer in youth sports, scouting activities, family and unit outings, clean-up days, seasonal and unit gatherings, and developmental programs. Outside of the military in private business, this translates to community outreach, public relations, and volunteerism – all important aspects of doing business in the local community.
- EDUCATION AND SPECIALIZED TRAINING
All service personnel receive advanced training in their fields. Their career fields designate a specialized focus and skill-building for individual jobs. Advanced training and cross-training can be in the computer, financial, medical, engineering, administrative, personnel, technical and security fields. Many have attended college to further their education, while some have earned graduate degrees. Businesses will find former military personnel will continually strive for improvement and ways to enhance his/her value.
- EMPHASIS ON HEALTH
There is a strong emphasis on staying physically fit and keeping the body healthy through physical conditioning, a healthy diet, avoidance of addictive substances, and a healthy, sound outlook on life.
A huge expense for any business is healthcare, and healthy employees are highly desirable.
Make notes about your own experiences and use this information to your best advantage. Not everything is all inclusive, and not everything applies to everyone. The point is, through your experiences and through your tenure in the military, you gained valuable qualities, traits, and skills that you may not have even realized. Assessing your strengths is important. This takes time, and by doing this, you will reap the rewards of your service, learn a great deal about yourself, and present a favorable and accurate representation of yourself to prospective employers. You are better than you think!!