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Transitioning from the Service to Working in an Office: A Veteran’s Perspective

Editor’s Note: This Memorial Day, we wanted to take a little time to show our appreciation for the Veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces. We worked with a war Vet (who would like to be known as “El Primo”) to create this personal perspective on re-entering the workplace after time in service. Thank you to all who have served and we hope this offers some help.

Many Veterans like myself assumed it would be easy to go from a structured Military Service, where order is the menu of the day, to the Civilian workforce, where you’re on the same line as everyone else competing to keep their jobs or advance in their careers. I’m a Veteran, married with family, college-educated and thought I had what it took to make all the “Widgets of Life” line up. Well, times are tough all around and more sacrifices are required than from when you served in uniform. I offer to all the Office Ninja Job Seekers my personal/professional take on the challenges and outcomes that have influenced how I contribute in today’s society.

Interviewing Approaches

When interviewing for a job opening, one of the most important things is to know your audience. Are you interviewing with senior or mid-level management? Maybe you’re interviewing with your hopeful supervisor. You may need to present yourself a little differently if you’re talking to the owner of the company or the guy you’ll be sitting next to if you get the job. It can also help to have a 30 second introduction ready. Think about what to say, cover your skillset, years of experience and education, this should take no more than 30 seconds and you can practice in the mirror by yourself or with a friend or confidant. This will make talking easier and cut down on the “Umms.” This will help you give a solid first and last impression.

Most importantly, you’ll want to keep your Military experience relevant to the Civilian job application. Try to avoid reverting back to one side of your experience, but rather expand and correlate the two together and explain how your experience can contribute to the company’s mission or vision statements.

Trials & Tribulations

Remember to give yourself an attitude adjustment—work on shifting from being Military-minded to Civilian-minded. Part of this adjustment is understanding what  expectations others have of you the person not your uniform. The Military standards of conduct that you’re used to will differ from the Civilian standards of conduct expected of you in an office environment. This is your opportunity to make your name known by incorporating your training into a new environment, first by observing; then conversing, reading body language and cues (prepare to open up with an ice breaker or read an article relative to your job); finally, take time to build a new rapport both in person and via social networks. When doing so, be brief yet not short, avoid TMI, and let the staff learn about who you are gradually. Take some time to think through what each of those personal and professional standards are and maybe even keep a list of behaviors you feel you might need to remind yourself to watch. It’s been many years, since you’ve been yourself. No one is going to fault you for forgetting, but this is a place where no one is going to tell you what to do or how to act. Remember to maintain your composure, balance your confidence, and never let them see you sweat. I would suggest being unpredictable rather than predictable in the beginning.

Moving from Military to Civilian work, you will also want to keep an eye on some of the psychological traits you developed in the Military. Be careful not to behave either too passively or too aggressively. You’ll want to find an equitable balance in the workplace. For example, be careful of exhibiting behavior that’s perceived to outshine others rather than going with the flow of your new workplace. Beware of a sense of entitlement—the company you’re applying for may appreciate and thank you for your service, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to fill out an application to be considered. Finally, consider your need for control. You don’t want to give a “do it or else” feeling to your new coworkers. They won’t like that so much. Instead, consider your own state of mind and remember that in the Civilian workplace, you won’t always have complete control.

Knowledge Base

When you were in the Military, speaking in acronyms became second-nature. In the Civilian workplace, it’s time to drop the acronyms and speak complete English. Even when it feels like you could say all you need to more quickly, most of the time Civilians will need you to explain your acronyms anyway, so it takes longer in the end.

Remember to keep up with today’s job trends and understand how it can translate to the work you’ve done in the Military. Your PME (Professional Military Education) isn’t going to be the same as a traditional education (AA, BA, MBA, PhD, etc.), but that doesn’t mean it isn’t relevant to the jobs you’re looking at. It might take a little time for you to get used to it, but once you can quickly recognize how what you learned and performed in your Military past can apply to Civilian jobs, you’ll discover that finding jobs you’re qualified for is much easier.

Establish yourself with basic self-awareness of your interviewing skills and prepare yourself for those trials and tribulation (AKA Ups and Downs) that can either help or hurt your decision-making skills and of course your knowledge base. OPS (Operations) tempo changes are no different in the “real world” job market, so keep aware of what you know and don’t know.

I end with my best wishes to you and your family during this time of change and hope my passing it forward will be beneficial to you in this new beginning.

What have been your greatest struggles in returning to Civilian life? How have you overcome them?


  1. thank you for sharing the useful information,
    Moving from Military to Civilian work, you will also want to keep an eye on some of the psychological traits you developed in the Military.THANK YOU

    1. Absolutely! You’re right, there are definitely a ton of skills that help with and after the transition :)

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