6 Qualities Veterans Have That Prepare Them for the Corporate World

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(U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Rachel Williams)

Military members might not look at a corporate middle manager and think he or she has what it takes to make a non-commissioned officer. The same is true in the reverse. Just because someone served in the military doesn’t qualify them automatically to work in a Fortune 500 corporation.

The gap between the two worlds isn’t as wide as anyone might think. Sure, there’s a different culture, different expectations and a different way of life, but there’s a lot about these two worlds that overlap.

A lot of that overlap is learned behavior. Luckily for veterans, the U.S. military is instilling those behaviors into each of its alumni. While veterans may not appreciate these right away, it pays to have some or all of the following traits.

1. Being on Time

They say 50% of success is showing up, but as anyone in the military knows, showing up when you’re supposed to is equally important. From day one, timeliness is embedded in the psyche of the military member. Being where you’re supposed to be when you’re supposed to be there is so important that veterans are programmed to believe that being 15 minutes early is “on time” while being “on time” is actually late.

The good news for veterans headed into the civilian world is that employees capable of being on time (which will appear to be “early” to civilians) are a much sought-after commodity. Showing up on time to events, presentations or even just the daily grind is noticed, recognized and appreciated in large companies.

2. Manners

Today’s offices can be a pretty informal place, especially as one ventures into the western parts of the United States. No matter how informal the workplace gets, some universally respected practices always are going to be there when it comes to manners, and veterans are taught most of them in basic training.

Referring to people by their official titles is not only good manners; it’s a sign of respect. The same goes with holding doors for others, standing for someone important and not falling asleep during a presentation. These are all things vets are programmed to do (or not do). Everyone in civilian corporations notices these small gestures, and they note the person who’s making them.

3. Time Management

Just like in the military, civilian corporate employees have a lot to balance. They have their human resources responsibilities, mandatory corporate training and anything else expected of them. This all comes on top of their normal responsibilities.

If that sounds familiar to you as a veteran, that’s because veterans have to juggle the same responsibilities on top of their everyday jobs as well. Military members have to do their jobs, complete computer-based training, on-the-job training and maintain their physical fitness. Juggling these responsibilities is great preparation for any civilian job, to be completed between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

4. Teamwork

Most military activities are group activities, from an everyday job to training exercises. People who serve in the military know the importance of an individual’s role in a group exercise and will work to make sure they fulfill what’s expected of them for the good of the unit as a whole. Civilian groups work much the same way.

On its face, the goal of a corporate civilian working group might seem like it’s not as important, but it’s part of a greater effort. Military members know the importance of doing their part, even if they don’t entirely understand the greater strategy at play, and they act accordingly. Corporate employers notice and recognize their efforts.

5. Proactivity

The idea that people should anticipate unforeseen events and respond in a meaningful way that allows the mission to continue seems absurd, but it’s an essential element in military life. Veterans know their job and will come to know an operational tempo. Like a sixth sense, it gives military members the ability to see potential obstacles to mission success. Corporations appreciate this quality in their employees.

The word “proactive” is itself rooted in corporate-speak, but it perfectly describes the way veterans are programmed to anticipate their own needs and act accordingly. Most importantly, veterans act independent of management when given the resources they need. Corporate managers see this as leadership ability -- because that’s what it is.

6. Tracking Success

Throughout their military career, veterans were asked to keep track of their own successes and personal achievements for the purposes of awards, performance reports and medals. While these come regularly throughout the year, it should be second nature for vets to note them.

This trait comes with one important caveat. Veterans tend to list their successes as a group effort, except when putting in for individual awards and medals. The group-oriented mentality actually can hold veterans back in corporate life. The corporate world wants and expects you to achieve on your own. It’s all well and good to be part of a team, but when it comes to raises, bonuses and promotions, it’s time to highlight how integral you personally are to any process.

-- Blake Stilwell can be reached at blake.stilwell@military.com. He can also be found on Twitter @blakestilwell or on Facebook.

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