Get All Access for $5/mo

5 Insights for Veterans Competing in the Civilian World The transition to civilian from the structure and values of the military might be the toughest mission yet.

By Lida Citroën Edited by Jessica Thomas

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Veterans: Thank you for your service to our country. As a civilian, I am grateful for the sacrifices you and your family made to ensure my freedom. One way I show my appreciation is by helping you make the service-to-civilian transition. Here, are my five tips to competing effectively in the civilian world.

1. Competitiveness requires talking about yourself

We civilians talk about our accomplishments and how we can provide value to our clients and employers. Self-promotion is familiar to us. We have learned that if we can't articulate our worth and personal brand, we are at a competitive disadvantage and can be easily passed over or seen as irrelevant.

Veterans: Take inventory of your offer, talents and how you can add value to your employer or client. When someone asks, "Tell me about yourself," have an answer that focuses on your talents and value in a way that is unique and compelling.

Related: 75 Franchises Helping Pay Back Veterans

2. Civilian culture is vastly more varied than the military

A financial firm on Wall Street has different formality and protocols than a Silicon Valley tech start up, where people come to work in shorts and sandals. A construction company in Boise will not has the same feel as an engineering firm in Houston. Because civilians have not experienced your background in service, we might perceive your formality as rigid and off-putting. Similarly, you might see our team building and on-boarding processes as fluid and inconsistent.

Veterans: Inventory your skills and preferences, then decide what kind of culture and environment appeals to you. Do you like wearing a uniform (or business suit)? Are you more free-spirited and innovative? Do you like to work outdoors or in an office? These answers will help determine the kind of company culture where you will fit in best and be most successful.

3. Collaboration is key

Civilian cultures value deliberation, inclusiveness and input from stakeholders at multiple levels in the organization. While you might have the title of "director," you may be asked to solicit input from subordinates (who have less experience) so everyone feels included and sold on the output of decisions.

Veterans: In a civilian job you may be asked to lead a project where you sit in multiple team meetings and discussions. Goals and objectives are reviewed, options and risk are evaluated, then the team builds a strategy. More meetings will follow to discuss and review the project. After a time, the team may decide not to continue the project. This will be frustrating for you, as you are trained in the military to execute a mission at all costs.

Related: Veterans Tackle the Challenges of Entrepreneurship

4. Dress code

In a civilian company, you cannot tell someone's rank by what they are wearing. Dress code is vague and inconsistent across industries, geography and company cultures. While a business suit is dress code in New York City, you'll look like an IRS agent if you wear a suit to a technology firm in San Francisco.

Veterans: Understand the company dress code by asking and observing. Watch how people at that company appear. Your goal is to present yourself with confidence and appropriateness.

5. Values

I wish I could say that every civilian company operated on the same values you learned in the United States Armed Forces. There are companies who frame posters boldly professing values of "Leadership, Integrity and Teamwork" and operate far short of those ideals.

Veterans: Seek out companies that have clearly articulated values and that live those values. They will align most closely with the commitment and integrity you are accustomed to. You will see their values in how they hire, on board and retain employees (especially veterans), how they present themselves to clients, the community and stakeholders, and their reputation in the industry.

The transition from military to civilian is fraught with fear. While I have not walked in your boots, I have years of experience working with former military. The path to success in the civilian workforce requires both that hiring managers understand how to relate to you and you clearly seeing the world you are entering.

Related: Starbucks to Hire 10,000 Veterans and Military Spouses in Next 5 Years

Lida Citroën

Reputation management and personal branding expert

Lida Citroën is an executive personal branding and reputation management specialist based in Colorado. As a public speaker and consultant, she works with global companies, business leaders and professionals to increase and enhance their reputation and relevancy to target markets, driving strategic and initiatives. Since 2009, Citroën has donated her expertise to helping veterans make successful transitions through her workshops, speaking and writing. Her newest book, Your Next Mission: A personal branding guide for the military-to-civilian transition, is impacting veterans and active duty military around the globe.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Editor's Pick

Starting a Business

Your Business Will Never Succeed If You Overlook This Key Step

A comprehensive guide for startups to achieve and maintain product-market fit through thorough market research, iterative product development and strategic scaling while prioritizing customer feedback and agility.

Starting a Business

How to Find the Right Programmers: A Brief Guideline for Startup Founders

For startup founders under a plethora of challenges like timing, investors and changing market demand, it is extremely hard to hire programmers who can deliver.

Business News

How Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang Transformed a Graphics Card Company Into an AI Giant: 'One of the Most Remarkable Business Pivots in History'

Here's how Nvidia pivoted its business to explore an emerging technology a decade in advance.

Business News

Want to Start a Business? Skip the MBA, Says Bestselling Author

Entrepreneur Josh Kaufman says that the average person with an idea can go from working a job to earning $10,000 a month running their own business — no MBA required.

Business Ideas

63 Small Business Ideas to Start in 2024

We put together a list of the best, most profitable small business ideas for entrepreneurs to pursue in 2024.


Why Hearing a 'No' is the Best 'Yes' for an Entrepreneur

Throughout the years, I have discovered that rejection is an inevitable part of entrepreneurship, and learning to embrace it is crucial for achieving success.