A Veteran's First Job: Taking on Less Responsibility

Businessman holding a white laptop.

In the corporate world, transitioning veterans are not that special. It doesn't matter how many combat tours you completed, how many medals you received or whether you were in the infantry or aviation supply. Most employers view veterans as though they're all the same, mainly because they don't have a solid understanding of what service members do on a daily basis.

Remember that less than 1% of the U.S. population has served in the military, so an employer's knowledge and understanding of what veterans actually do is limited and distorted by Hollywood movies, cable news and the exaggerated stories they hear thirdhand from neighbors or co-workers.

Can you speak intelligently about what defense lawyers actually do daily, other than what you see on "Law and Order?" Not many veterans probably can, so don't think that, as a transitioning veteran, you can throw your military resume downrange and have dozens of companies fighting to hire you.

The truth is, America isn't at war; the military is. And military leaders don't explain that to service members when they transition. Most veterans believe that everyone back home knows exactly what they do and understands how their skills translate to the corporate world.

But not many people back home actually understand. As a result, the corporate world views veterans as a commodity rather than as individuals, with specific and varying skills and experiences.

When you finally land that first job, you probably won't be in charge of anyone. You won't be mentoring other colleagues, influencing operations or, frankly, have responsibility for much of anything except yourself. You'll most likely be the low man on the totem pole so you can learn the technical competencies of your new job.

Don't get down on yourself if you end up being a 28-year-old intern, or if your new boss is several years younger than you and has considerably less leadership experience. Be prepared for this and don't take it personally. You have to pay your dues and learn the trade, just like you did in the military.

In the military, service members never skip ranks. You have to earn each chevron with hard work and experience. Could you imagine if the Army took the honors grad at boot camp and made them your squad leader in Afghanistan? There's just no way that would happen. So why would a company do the same thing with you? You'll have to take a few steps back in order to take a thousand steps forward. Rarely will a veteran land a civilian job that comes with the equivalent responsibility, authority and compensation that they had in the military.

This is why it's so important to search for a career and not just settle for a job. If you pursue a job because it pays well or comes with an impressive title, chances are that you won't find the work very fulfilling and you may end up quitting after a few months.

Then you'll be back where you started again. But if you network with people, do your research, ask questions and make an informed decision about a career that you genuinely enjoy, regardless of the starting pay or job title, you'll be a happier, harder-working person. And in no time, your salary and responsibility will catch up to the value you bring to the company.

Don't let your ego dictate your destiny.

Michael Abrams is an Afghanistan veteran and founder of Four Block, a veteran career development program based in New York. He is the author of "Business Networking for Veterans," as well as an adjunct professor at Fordham University.

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