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4 Things Companies Don't Understand About Vets Transitioning From the Military to the Corporate World

The military is actually a far more complex organization than whatever company a veteran takes a job with.

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In spite of the reverence that U.S. military veterans inspire in popular culture, we're still a pretty misunderstood bunch. Most civilians assume that we spend our days doing pushups and jumping over walls when we're not in combat, when the reality is that the military is a massive, sophisticated organization, filled with people performing incredibly specialized, and often highly-technical, roles. My time in the Air Force rarely brought me anywhere near a cockpit for instance, but I did spend a lot of my days squinting at computer code.

Inti St Clair | Getty Images

It's no surprise then that this misunderstanding carries over to the transition process, when veterans leave the military to join the ranks of the corporate world. How can companies make sure that veterans enjoy an engaging, rewarding work environment if they don't even understand what we did or what it means to be an infantryman, pilot or communications officer? As an Air Force veteran who has made a happy transition to startup CTO, I pulled from my own experience and spoke to my veteran colleagues at Mark43 to round up four things that companies should understand when hiring veterans.

Related: 5 Veterans Share Their Tips for Successfully Transitioning From Service to Entrepreneurship

Team and mission are priority number one.

“When thinking about my private sector career, I only considered paths that served a greater purpose, one that I could get behind. And of course, a great team to share the vision.” - Danny Cho, Director of Business Development and U.S. Army Veteran

Ask a veteran what they value in a civilian role and you are virtually guaranteed to hear a response that focuses on team and mission. We joined the military to serve a purpose higher than ourselves, and along the way we learned that the best way to serve that purpose is to work doggedly as a team.

If your company doesn't have, or can't articulate, a purpose beyond padding the bottom line, there is almost no chance that veteran hires will stay beyond a year. Similarly, veterans are energized by working as a team. Siloing us off into individualized roles is a great way to suck the life out of us.

The military enjoys an ingrained, highly-prioritized leadership culture. The corporate world does not.

“Many things related to leadership, mission, and purpose, which became second nature to me in the service, are not at all a given in the private sector.” - Domenico Pellegrini, Director of Major Agencies and U.S. Marine Corps Veteran

Leadership skills are highly prized in the military. As a result, throughout the armed services, these "soft skills" are uniformly much more developed than they are in the corporate world. The private sector gives lots of lip service to leadership (read: "management"), but the results are much more varied. Some managers take these skills seriously, while many others bumble along.

To veterans, the difference is glaringly obvious. My advice: A little bit of training in leadership can go a long way. A good leader can make a team.

Related: 'Risk It All and Risk It Often' According to This Veteran-Entrepreneur

Veterans are action-oriented. Tell it like it is and get things done.

“Taking a week to respond to an email was an outrageous timeline to me.” - Michael Guadan, Customer Success Manager and U.S. Marine Corps Veteran

Veterans come from an environment where we were routinely expected to act decisively under tight time frames, with high stakes, and limited resources. In general, the stakes faced by the corporate world don't come close to those encountered in the military, so we get particularly frustrated when we see colleagues taking needless time, engaging in circular discussions, or putting up arbitrary blockers. We like a workplace that focuses on actually getting things done.

Related: Why Veterans Take the Initiative to Explore Entrepreneurship

Veterans move from a world of little choice to one of infinite choice.

"I made one choice to enter West Point at 18 and didn't make another until I left the service 12 years later.” - John Corretti, Implementation Lead and U.S. Army Veteran

Military members are accustomed to following a strict chain of command and rigid schedule that applies both to their day-to-day processes and job trajectories. In the military, promotions are based on how long you’ve been in your role rather than on merit. In fact, this is a major reason why many veterans choose to move into the private sector; they are seeking an opportunity to chart their own paths.

While increased flexibility presents opportunities, this transition also presents a fairly significant challenge for many veterans. Suddenly, we have to make a whole array of choices that were previously decided for us -- who to work for, where to live, what to eat, which health insurance to buy and more. The combination of positives and difficulties here means that companies seeking to attract veterans should emphasize opportunities while also providing guidance.

While these takeaways might not apply to all veterans equally, they do provide some helpful insights into what many of us experience as we transition from the military to the corporate world. Companies stand to gain a lot by hiring former service members. By accounting for these points, they can better position themselves to build a truly dynamic and mission-oriented team.

Stephen Okano

Written By

Stephen Okano is Chief Technology Officer at Mark43 with an Air Force leadership background. As an experienced software engineer and project manager, he seeks to make a difference in mission-focused product companies. Read more from Stephen at