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5 Important Lessons about the Civilian Working World

Business meeting in office.

Transitioning into the civilian world can be a big culture shock for veterans. The most obvious difference between the military and civilian working culture is less structure in almost every facet of work. At best, this can be confusing to navigate. At worst, it might seriously hinder a veteran's ability to find grounding after transition. If you're worried about what you'll find among civilian employees, check out these 5 important lessons about the civilian working world.

1. It's more relaxed than the military.

 Although most civilian companies require their employees to arrive on time, put in a certain amount of effort, and adhere to some basic guidelines, civilian professional culture is far more lax than the military. There's no saluting, no reveille, no strict uniform guidelines, and hundreds of other things that come second nature in the military are missing from civilian work.

It's important to keep in mind that lack of strict rules doesn't translate to easy or lazy. You might not get reprimanded for wearing your headgear indoors, but that doesn't mean you should give up your standards altogether. In place of strict rules, the civilian world thrives on many so-called unspoken rules. Again, if you break these rules you usually won't get punished, but it may put a damper on your career.

It might seem difficult to figure out what the guidelines for civilian working culture actually are, but a little bit of observation and asking the right people for some assistance will go a long way.

2. Interpersonal skills and communication are important in every industry.

Even if you don't pick up a job that requires working with customers or clients, polishing up your interpersonal skills will take you far. It can be as simple as sending a quick email to notify a coworker of some change at work, or as tricky as giving a professional benefit of the doubt to someone who made a mistake.

Learning how to work with civilians in a personal and genuine way not only facilitates clear communication, it's a far more reliable way to get things done than leaning on rank or job description. Although everyone in a company has a specific job and place in the hierarchy, there aren't always immediate consequences to failing to get the job done. Your colleagues may be overworked, or have been given a certain priority system from a higher up. Either way, ensuring solid social connections with coworkers will help everything run smoothly.

3. Not everyone will pull their weight.

Although there are individuals in the military who don't pull their weight, it can be startling to encounter in the civilian world. Many veterans feel that civilians lack motivation, don't work quickly, and sometimes just don't get the job done. While it would be unfair and incorrect to paint all civilians in that light, it's something veterans will most likely have to deal with.

When you encounter a coworker who isn't pitching in as much as they should, try to give them the benefit of the doubt and tackle the problem like a puzzle to be solved. There might be strong reason for their lapse in work ethic. Is everything okay in their personal life? Are they receiving unclear direction from the command chain? Are they disconnected from the flow of the rest of the office? How did you or your comrades in the military deal with these issues and still perform? You might be in a position to give some hard-won military wisdom on how to get back on track.

There are, of course, cases were someone is outright lazy or beyond most forms of motivation or help. In these cases, document the situation as much as you can and make sure your own work gets taken care of. Civilians tend to frown on open complaining about other coworkers, but most bosses and HR managers do want to be alerted to potentially serious problems in the team.

4. Networking is critical.

There are a lot of ways to find a job or get ahead in your industry by making use of opportunities online. But, nothing beats solid networking. It's much harder to win people over with words on paper only – making personal connections endears you to others faster and it's an easier way for them to figure you out.

Don't think in terms of shoving a business card into every possible hand, focus on involving yourself in events and groups related to your industry. Look for meet-ups, conventions, and even job fairs to make a personal appearance and start getting to know fellow professionals face to face.

5. You may need to set your own goals.

The military provided a lot, including a strong sense of what you're supposed to be doing, when it's needed, and why. But, the civilian world isn't always so clear cut. Civilian employers sometimes work on vague ideas, or don't provide key pieces of information to get the job done. When this happens, it's important that you focus on the task at hand and set your own goals. When is it needed by? What are the parameters of the job? How does it need to get done? If you can figure the out on your own or set them for yourself, you'll display good work ethic and ingenuity.

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