Managing Your Reputation Is the Key to a Successful Post-Military Career

(U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Timothy Walter)

At my training for a group of transitioning service members, a soldier in the back of the room bellowed: “What does it matter what anyone else thinks of me?”

Admittedly, he was agitated at the idea that he now needed to be mindful of how he was coming across to people who would hold opportunities he sought. Here’s how the conversation unfolded:

“In the military, it’s not a popularity contest. Now civilians are going to judge me and decide I’m worthy of a chance?” 

Managing reputation is not about popularity, “likes” on social media or the number of friends you have. It is about understanding the way others perceive you and aligning their perception with how you want to be seen.

Consider this: If a hiring manager senses you’re obstinate, difficult to work with or non-collaborative, they’ll likely be resistant to offering you a role managing or working with a high-functioning team. Their perception of you might be wrong, but they will (often without realizing it) base their feeling about how you fit in the organization on this perception.

Similarly, if an interviewer sees you as willing to learn, as someone who’s passionate about the work and team and eager to lead, they might offer you an opportunity to prove yourself. Perception, beliefs, views, feelings and impressions matter to those making choices in our favor (or against).

When you’re clear about how you want to be viewed by the people who matter, you can position yourself -- authentically -- to get their attention.

“There’s that ‘authenticity’ word again. I’m not going to tell people everything about me.”

Agreed. You shouldn’t tell people everything about yourself, but what you share should be genuine and real. That’s authenticity: being true to who you are, what you stand for and represent and what you share. If you tell me you’re passionate about something, care about an idea or hold a value, it should be truthful and real, not fake.

I differentiate this understanding of authenticity with a holistic view of transparency, which can mean sharing everything. When we say someone is an “open book,” we imply they are being transparent. As individuals, we retain the right to hold some things, thoughts, ideas, beliefs, traumas, dreams and views as private and not share them. But what we choose to share should be truthful. 

“Ok, so if I get clear on how I want others to see me, how do I know it’s working?”

When the right people see you in the right way for the right qualities, you attract ideal opportunities. You no longer apply for jobs in companies whose values don’t align with yours, thus increasing the odds that your ideal employer will see you as someone they want to work with. 

You’ll be clearer about the people you’ll associate with -- networking -- to grow your career options. You’ll be more open with your mentor and advisers and let them help you find the path that suits you best. 

When you are intentional about how you want to show up and the opportunities you seek, you will be able to make decisions quicker, share more impactful content on social media, know how to dress for a job interview, introduce yourself to a stranger and the list goes on. 

For example, if you want others to see you as open-minded, creative and inclusive, you’d bring others into critical conversations, and you’d ask questions before offering your own insights and connect with people different from yourself. 

If your goal is to be known as someone who brings new ideas to opportunities, who challenges the status quo and who can be counted on to lead the team through adversity, you would volunteer for high-visibility, high-risk projects, push back when you hear, “That’s how we’ve always done things,” and you’d share your view on social media with confidence, backing up your assertions. 

Your actions, communication and relationships will support how you want to be seen. When others consistently experience you sharing what you stand for and believe in, and then acting in accordance with those beliefs, you’ll earn credibility and opportunities.

Without a clear direction of who you are and where you are headed, it’s easy to make poor decisions -- such as convincing yourself to pursue a job because of things that truly aren’t important to you -- or trying to be liked by everyone. Being clear on who you are, what you offer and who will value you is critical to driving a meaningful and successful career.

The author of "Success After Service: How to Take Control of Your Job Search and Career After Military Duty” (2020) and "Your Next Mission: A personal branding guide for the military-to-civilian transition" (2014), Lida Citroën is a keynote speaker and presenter, executive coach, popular TEDx speaker and instructor of multiple courses on LinkedIn Learning. She regularly presents workshops on personal branding, executive presence, leadership communication and reputation risk management.

A contributing writer for, Lida is a passionate supporter of the military, volunteering her time to help veterans transition to civilian careers and assist employers who seek to hire military talent. She regularly speaks at conferences, corporate meetings and events focused on military transition.

Want to Know More About Veteran Jobs?

Be sure to get the latest news about post-military careers as well as critical info about veteran jobs and all the benefits of service. Subscribe to and receive customized updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Story Continues