21 November 2014

The Uncommon Qualities of Military Members

In the midst of all the noise that tells Veterans that they have to translate their military occupation into civilian speak, how they must learn to dress, and how they must relearn how to communicate in a professional environment, there is one thing that does not get enough attention: The innate ability of most Veterans to adapt to almost any situation that they find themselves in, known by the buzz words “soft skills”.

As I left the service, most of my days were filled with the fear of feeling lost, not knowing how to navigate the day-to-day challenges of a corporate job, and being unable to keep up with the steep learning curve associated with my work. While all of those were legitimate fears, and ones that I had to tackle head on to keep ahead of, it took me a while to understand that in some areas, I had the advantage.

Soft skills are generally defined as “personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people.” Given that the general narrative is that Veterans have trouble fitting in, this would seem to be the antithesis of what we are good at. I would argue that the narrative around this is generally wrong. Almost all of the Veterans that I have interacted with outside of the service have been very adept at interacting with people of all backgrounds and persuasions – and this would make sense. The military is one of the most diverse and inclusive workplaces in the world, presenting the need for service members to learn how to get along with men and women of all walks of life in a myriad of unique and stressful situations.

The reason I am driving at this particular skill set is because it is not nearly as common as you would think outside of the service. The ability to walk onto a project or team with patience, humility, and the ability to see the strengths and weaknesses in the team around you is actually quite rare, but a personality trait that the military hones in us because of its absolute necessity in most operations.

So how does this give Veterans an advantage in looking for work?

If you put those skills to work in researching the company that you want to work for, it will help you identify the kind of person that works within that organization. This will then help you assess expectations, and become more accessible in the interview process. People generally hire people that they like when all other things are equal – using your soft skills that the service cultivated in you will certainly help you be more genuine, easy to relate to, likable, adaptable, and in the end – hire-able.

Highlight these qualities in the interview process, and give quantifiable examples of where you’ve used them and how they were of benefit to the team you were a part of. As much as an employer wants to hear about your qualifications for the position, they are also going to be very interested in how you may fit on their team, and that has nothing to do with where you got your degree, or what you did for a living for the last five years.

Having been on a faster developmental timeline in this department doesn’t make you better than your civilian counterpart. It just means that skills that take a long time to develop in civilian society were cultivated in you at a much faster pace (out of necessity), and you know how to utilize them better than your peer group in many cases. Maturity, patience, logical thinking, and the ability to see things from others’ points of view are all part of this skill set; put it to work for you, and don’t discount its value in your post-military professional journey.

Comment below or start the conversation here and connect within the military community.

*These opinions belong to the writer and in no way reflect the views of the DoD or other departments of the US government.

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