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Effectively Supporting Veterans in the Civilian Workplace | Veteran's Perspective

Updated: Nov 10, 2023

By:

Brandy Doggett

Darin Black | Director, Strategic Initiatives

Nikki Sotkin Harrison Parham | Marketing Specialist

Have you thought about the benefits of hiring veterans? The civilian hiring process for veterans can be tricky, but enduring the confusion of the hiring process is rewarding. Oftentimes, it is difficult to regard military experience at the same level as direct industry experience in the hiring process, but that unique experience can bring an important level of diversity to your organization.


You can find more information and resources on hiring for diversity, specifically in reference to veterans, HERE.


We asked some of our veteran employees at Vida HR questions about how their individual experiences transitioning into the civilian workforce, and how they feel employers can best support them.


The employees we talked to are:


Brandy Doggett

Branch: US Navy

Rank: E-5 Second Class Petty Officer

Rate: Cryptologic Technician Technical

Years Served: 2011 – 2015


Nikki Sotkin

Branch: US Navy

Rank: E-4 Third Class Petty Officer Rate: Hospital Corpsman

Years Served: 1993 – 1998


Darin Black | Director, Strategic Initiatives

Branch: US Air Force

Rank: E-4 Senior Airman Job: Airborne Communications Systems Operator Years Served: 1989 - 1992


We Asked:

 



In what ways do you feel employers can support service members making the transition into the civilian workforce? Share your experience and why it was or was not supportive.


Brandy Doggett | E-5 Second Class Petty Officer | US Navy :

Newly separated service members likely haven’t worked in a civilian work environment in years, if ever. With that in mind, as well as the highly structured environment they recently exited, adjusting to new civilian work cultures may take some time. Providing clear guidance and expectations will help to set recently separated service members up for success.


Whether a Veteran is newly separated or not, another thing to consider is time spent at Veterans Affairs (VA). Even if a Veteran isn’t treated regularly at the VA, they may go in for periodic check-ups or for one-off appointments. The VA healthcare system is not “work friendly” when it comes to scheduling appointments, and it is often a “you get what you get” type of mentality. This might mean appointments in the middle of the day, long wait times, or last-minute scheduling. Give your Veteran employees grace when dealing with VA appointments so they can get the treatment that is needed. If you ask a Veteran to reschedule an appointment at the VA, you may be asking them to wait 6 months to a year for another opening.


Nikki Sotkin | E-4 Hospital Corpsman | US Navy:

Employers can support service members transitioning to the civilian workforce with understanding and kindness. It is a tough transition. It is more of a mental transition. The difference between military work and civilian, for me, was structure, accountability, ethics, and team players. The definitions of these are not the same between the military and civilian workforce. This was not a negative but a significant difference to adjust to.

Darin Black | E-4 Senior Airman | US Air Force:

A service member transitioning to civilian life will most likely experience culture shock. This is not necessarily a bad thing but needs to be understood with plenty of grace and guidance given. Many entering today’s workforce are expected to be self-motivated and may be expected to need little supervision in their new position. That is not to say service members are not self-motivated, they are but may have been subject to a very structured life and schedule. Many have been told what to do and when to do it for significant periods of their service. Coming alongside a newly hired service member and helping them to establish some structure initially, may be very helpful in helping them to be more comfortable in their new role.


I went from a very structured life as an Alert Aircrew member to a civilian position that was for me, somewhat similar with a lot of structure and checklists. While I was left alone and expected to be self-sufficient, the structure provided made my transition to civilian life much less anxious.



 

How has your time in the military shaped your view of teams and leadership?


Brandy Doggett | E-5 Second Class Petty Officer | US Navy :

The military instilled an expectation of a “one-team-one-fight” mentality when it comes to both team members and leadership. While this isn’t always the norm in the civilian workforce, I know I personally am drawn to work for organizations that support this type of culture. During my time in the Navy, the term “deck plate leadership” was commonly used. This describes a leader who isn’t afraid to get their hands dirty with the rest of the team but also implies that leadership should be able to fill the shoes of their team if ever needed. This isn’t something as common in the civilian workforce, likely because there are opportunities to move jobs and change careers. A couple of ways leaders can help combat this is to ensure their staff has the training and support they need to do their job and not be afraid to be trained on something new to best support the team.


Nikki Sotkin | E-4 Hospital Corpsman | US Navy:

What I have learned is that no matter the style of leadership, there are many ways to successfully lead a team. The key components are communication, knowing the objectives, and your personnel’s abilities and knowledge.

Darin Black | E-4 Senior Airman | US Air Force:

Each member of a team has a very important role that must be performed. However, individually their work does not accomplish the mission. Teamwork is essential for the overall success of the mission or objective whether in the service or civilian life. It can be a struggle for service members with teamwork so engrained into their daily lives to feel alone or to easily accept the learning curve in a new position.


Leadership is an interesting topic and one can expect service members to tell tales of good and less-than-stellar leadership encountered during their tenure. The same is true in civilian life. Expect service members to be loyal and not to question leadership. In today’s workforce, there may be an expectation that members of the team can question leadership, in a respectful way of course, or provide a differing perspective that may bring value. This may take time for transitioning service members to feel comfortable with. During my time in the service, questioning or perhaps seeing something from a different perspective and attempting to verbalize that, was simply not acceptable.


 


What unique traits do you feel veterans bring to the modern civilian workforce?


Brandy Doggett | E-5 Second Class Petty Officer | US Navy :

Perspective.

Veterans have lived through and worked under conditions that civilians have no concept of; some branches more than others. When I first got out of the military, one of the things I was most grateful for was that I got to go home and sleep in my own bed every night. While that might seem strange to those who never served in the military, it is something I still think about over 7 years later.


Appreciation vs entitlement.

Often in today’s culture, I see employees who act as though their employer, and the world, owe them something. In my opinion, most newly separated veterans are appreciative to be given a chance in the civilian workforce, grateful that their career advancement opportunities aren’t contingent on testing and military advancement quotas, and that they get some say in what their work life is going to look like.


Leadership experience at all ages.

Military members are thrust into leadership opportunities almost immediately upon their start of service. This is something most civilian workforces don’t offer to 18-year-old new hires. The development of leadership skills from a young age offers a new perspective for team members once they enter the civilian workforce that likely encourages more communication and inclusion of team members of all ages.

Nikki Sotkin | E-4 Hospital Corpsman | US Navy:

In the simplest terms, I feel veterans bring the following to the civilian workforce:

  • Teamwork

  • Leadership

  • Accountability

  • Strong Attention to detail


Darin Black | E-4 Senior Airman | US Air Force:

For many, having the opportunity to complete basic training and to serve, is a significant, life-transforming event. While I understand that it may not be a good fit for many members of today’s modern civilian workforce, part of me wishes that everyone would go through basic training prior to becoming a part of that workforce.


The training of certain life skills, discipline, and the ability to know that one can trust their life to their teammates is just the beginning of the traits a service member can bring. While they may not be entirely unique: loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, organization, teamwork, a strong work ethic, and the ability to deliver under stressful or difficult circumstances round out many of the traits I believe most service members can bring to the civilian workforce.

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