Let’s face it…we did what most Americans won’t do. We made the decision, for whatever reason, to serve in the military. We did great things, endured hard times and some of us may have possibly shed blood for this great country of ours. During a time of extended conflict, we chose to join and/or stay in the military and for that, we should be commended. However, if we think that just because we served in the military that we are entitled to, well, anything after our service has ended, we need to seriously revaluate that way of thinking.
Difference Between Deserving and Entitlement
Webster defines the word deserve as doing something or have or show qualities worthy of. Webster defines entitlement as the belief that one is inherently supposed to have privileges or special treatment. It can be very easy to confuse the two words, but as you can see, they are different in meaning. Let me translate this to your eventual or past transition from military life: You absolutely deserve to find a good job, make good money, have awesome benefits and live in a nice home. I am of the opinion that mostly everyone deserves these things.
With that being said, you are entitled to absolutely none of it. Period.
No one will roll out the red carpet at interviews and no one will give you a job simply because you served. Be proud of your service and know that people, generally, do appreciate it, but understand that just because you served does not mean you are supposed to have a guarantee of success after the uniform. In order to navigate around this issue, we have to examine some of the misconceptions (and solutions to those misconceptions) of the entitlement mindset that can sneak upon us during the process (and it is a process) of leaving the military.
Misconception #1: I’m Unique
As I stated before, we did what most of our fellow Americans decided not to do. In that setting, we are unique to around 99% of the country. In the military, some of us decide to undertake some of the more “clandestine” or secretive jobs and missions. This makes us elite among the already unique. So, it is very easy to carry over this attitude as we prepare to leave the military, but let me bring you back to a sobering reality:
In the civilian world, you are just another face in the crowd.
When it comes to looking for, applying to and interviewing for jobs, we are not elite or unique. There are a multitude of people that apply for the same jobs. Competition is fierce and believing that our service will get us in the door is not a good way of thinking. Including everyone else that is leaving the military at any given time, there are recent college graduates and experienced professionals competing against us. Additionally, employers, although grateful for your service, are not going to be amused by your service alone. When it comes down to it, they will want to know how your experience will help their bottom line and help the organization achieve success.
Solution: Instead of attempting to use the fact that we served as the launching pad into a great civilian life, we need to highlight what we did in service. Getting a degree and certifications in your desired field can go a long way toward finding your success after the uniform and the good news about this is you can do this before leaving the military.
Misconception #2: The Civilian World Needs to Adjust to Veterans
I think we can all agree that military life is vastly different from that of civilian life. Everything from mentality to lingo could be worlds apart. One mistake that we, as Veterans, tend to make is that we believe that the civilian world, specifically civilian workplaces, need to “adjust to us”. Hard truth…they have to do no such thing. Let me be clear: I’m not talking about making special accommodations for a wheelchair bound combat Veteran. I mean mentality and way of thinking. Let’s keep it real…some of the things we do and say to get the job done in service do not go over well in the civilian workplace. To my fellow NCOs across the Armed Forces, you cannot give the knife hand to a subordinate and talk to them using “colorful” language to put out instructions. You cannot motivate a co-worker by insulting them. Unlike the military, civilians have the option to quit before they will take what they may consider “harsh treatment” from anyone. In other words, it may be our demeanor that needs to adjust, not the civilian workplace.
Solution: From the day of your phone screen to the first day on the job, convey that you are a team player. Let them know, verbally and through action, that you are now one of them and want to achieve success for the team and, ultimately, the organization as a whole. Get to know the people working around you to understand how you can effectively communicate with them, regardless of whether they are subordinates or co-workers.
Misconception #3: I Don’t Have to Start from the Bottom
Honestly, I struggled with this one. I told myself that I won’t have to take an entry-level position anywhere because I have a Master’s Degree in IT Management, a couple of IT certifications and 6 years of experience. I felt I was entitled to a mid-management IT position. I applied for countless management-level jobs and guess what?
I hardly received callbacks, let alone interviews.
However, once I came down from my high horse and stopped thinking so foolishly, the job search started yielding more phone screens and interviews and led to a great job at the headquarters for a Fortune 500 company. It was essentially a paid internship, but it was still an awesome opportunity that I was grateful for and that eventually led to a higher paying opportunity later on.
Let me pose a few questions to you that may change your thinking when it comes to this particular misconception: When initially enlisting in the military, can you come in as a Master Chief, Sergeant Major or Chief Master Sergeant? How about new officers coming in as the commander of a unit from day one? Would you respect a “leader” without an ounce of military experience? For some of us, our only work experience is the military so why on Earth would we believe that we won’t have to start from the bottom in a civilian job? Although not impossible, it is unlikely that you will start above entry-level at your new civilian job. Also, if you are making $45,000 a year as an E-4, don’t expect to get paid $70,000 a year on your first job after leaving the military. There may be rare cases where this is true, but don’t count on it. Truthfully, you are not ready to handle the responsibility of that $70,000 annual salary. We have to be realistic.
Solution: Accept early in your transition process that you will likely have to start in an entry-level position, but understand that you don’t have to stay in an entry-level position very long. Take the time and do the work required to show that you do deserve (but are not entitled to) a more senior level position and more compensation to go with it.
Be Competitive, but Humble
These 3 misconceptions can derail your transition like nothing else. Having an entitled mindset is not the way to logically approach this huge change in your life. Once again, know that you are competing against hundreds, if not thousands, of other job applicants. So, I advise you to be highly competitive. Set the foundation of success after the uniform while you are still in uniform. Learn as much as you possibly can and get the education and/or certifications that can set you apart from the crowd, but know that there is a fine line between being competitive and entitled. Always be humble and gracious for whatever opportunity comes your way and know that your first job after the military can be a stepping stone to a great civilian career.