4 Potential First Post-Military Job Faux Pas and How to Avoid Them

(U.S. Navy/Joe Bullinger)

It's your first post-military job. Everything looks and feels different, and you're trying to fit in as quickly as possible. While you're busy learning where the coffee machine is, how to submit expense reports and what to wear in a Zoom meeting, it's important to avoid making classic mistakes that can paint you in a negative light.

Here are some first-job faux pas to avoid:

1. Trying to make friends too fast.

You've just left a culture (the military) that operates much like a family. You trusted the people around you to look out for you and keep you safe, with everyone sharing a common purpose and mission. The civilian sector, on the other hand, appears to be different: Unique agendas, goals and work styles means it's challenging to find your new battle buddies.

In your quest to get comfortable, you could befriend the wrong people (i.e., someone with a negative image or reputation in the company) or join the wrong "cliques" (i.e., the problem makers, instead of problem solvers) and end up making your job harder.

2. Trying too hard to impress.

While eagerness and enthusiasm in the job are great, too much of a good thing may not be. Resist the feeling you need to prove yourself and overshare, overcommit or otherwise try too hard to make a good first impression.

3. Holding back ideas or opinions.

If you hold back too much, though, you might miss the opportunity to showcase your strengths and talents. It's a fine balance between being pushy and being reluctant. When appropriate, share your ideas, opinions, insights and experiences to help the group progress.

4. Worrying over challenges.

Whether you come from a military background or not, new jobs always bring some challenges and obstacles. Maybe there's more to the job than was listed in the description. Perhaps you were hyped about the company, but once inside, you see some unpleasant truths. Instead of worrying and getting frustrated about early challenges, accept they will occur and seek to work through them intentionally.

As you navigate the first days, weeks and months of the new job, use these best practices for setting your post-military career up for success:

Find your footing.

No one is expecting you to solve the company's biggest issues in the first few days. Lean into your situational awareness to size up the place:

  • Who are the influencers who command respect on the team?
  • How do the organization's leaders make important decisions?
  • Which behaviors and actions are frowned upon?

Gather intel about what you see to gain understanding of your new environment.

Seek mentors and allies.

Instead of setting out to find your new best friend at work, look for people who have experience and credibility and who might be willing to advise and guide you. A mentor can help you assess your environment and team, make decisions about your assertiveness and grow your career. Allies will give you encouragement and support and introduce you to key opportunities. These are valuable work contacts, especially in the early days at a new company.

Give yourself grace.

Practice giving yourself patience and accept that you will make mistakes. Give yourself time to figure out this new culture and environment. The transition from the military to the private sector is not a day or event; it's a process, and it takes time to move through it successfully.

Ask for help.

You'll learn that civilians aren't as hesitant to ask for help as veterans often are. When you feel yourself getting stuck or needing additional support, training or resources, reach out for help. In your early days on the job, look for avenues of assistance -- it may be your boss or your boss' boss -- where you can get what you'll need to thrive in the job.

Apply your experiences.

Where it applies, share your skills, talents, training and experiences from the military. Be careful using too many military terms, acronyms or jargon but relate your past experiences to what you and the team are facing today. Your perspective can add unique insight.

While your first post-military job will certainly be a unique experience, accept that you'll likely have many "firsts" as you transition out. You'll change jobs and companies, move to different buildings or cities, make friends and lose friends. Be patient with yourself, approaching each change with curiosity and possibility and staying authentic to who you are.

The author of "Success After Service: How to Take Control of Your Job Search and Career After Military Duty" (2020) and "Your Next Mission: A personal branding guide for the military-to-civilian transition" (2014), Lida Citroën is a keynote speaker and presenter, executive coach, popular TEDx speaker and instructor of multiple courses on LinkedIn Learning. She regularly presents workshops on personal branding, executive presence, leadership communication and reputation risk management.

A contributing writer for Military.com, Lida is a passionate supporter of the military, volunteering her time to help veterans transition to civilian careers and assist employers who seek to hire military talent. She regularly speaks at conferences, corporate meetings and events focused on military transition.

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