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Military Career Transition Success Story: Michael Teegardin

Michael Teegardin
VP of Communications
BAE Systems

Returning from combat and looking for a job in the civilian world can be a daunting task. But the good news is there are a growing number of opportunities for America’s returning heroes; everything from increased military transition resources to corporate initiatives aimed at hiring military veterans. When it comes to sharing my own transition story, I offer up a slightly different perspective.

I served as a reservist in the Army from 1992-2000 and spent a year mobilized as an intelligence analyst for Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom. So, I am not a career military person, but I experienced enough time in uniform to understand the culture. In my current position as the vice president of communications for a major defense contractor, I am fortunate enough to work with a number of former military members. I have seen many veterans make a successful transition to the civilian world; and, unfortunately, I have seen others struggle. I have also hired and managed a number of communications professionals, including many veterans. I want to offer an insider’s insight into what employers are looking for in a quality candidate.

From Combat to Corporate Culture
The most important observation I’d like to share is that making a successful transition from the military to civilian world hinges on the ability to deeply understand and embrace the cultural differences in both.  While most employers absolutely value the leadership, discipline and organizational skills that military veterans bring to the job, some may have stereotypes of veterans as being “too rigid” or formal, accustomed to hierarchy. Beyond taking off the uniform and putting on a suit, here are a few things I recommend:

  • Know when not to have a military mindset and to have an increased awareness that you’re walking into a different environment. Size up the situation and adjust how you might relate to superiors and to those who report to you.
  • Tone down the formality. Using “Sir” or “Ma’am” is the norm in the military but not when interacting with professionals in the civilian world. It can even come across as a bit awkward for the recipient of the greeting.
  • Use civilian time. A meeting at 3 p.m. isn’t at “15-hundred hours”.
  • Translate your military skills/attributes into civilian terms. MOS what? Civilians don’t understand military acronyms. Using them only emphasizes that you’re coming from a very different culture. 

Play up Most of your Military Strengths
While it’s important to make the few adjustments listed above, you should play up the strengths and skills that made you successful in the military. Those same attributes will help you succeed in the civilian world. Any former service member knows what I’m talking about but I’ll list just a few military qualities that I value as an employer: strong work ethic; ability to manage a variety of different tasks and complete them with excellence; adaptability; teamwork; leadership; ability to think on your feet and manage a crisis with a calm head; responsibility; accountability; and the list goes on.

Better yet, if you seek a job in the defense industry, your military knowledge and expertise gives you a leg up on your civilian counterparts. I still hear people within our business using the term “soldier” to refer to every service member regardless of their branch. If one of your major customers is the U.S. Navy and you refer to them as soldiers, you’ll create a problem for yourself and your company. In addition, noticing the little things that matter to a member of the military and having an authentic voice in all communications efforts can really set you apart. For instance, those of us who spent time in the military recognize in marketing materials when a designer or communications professional is out of touch if they show a soldier, sailor, airman or marine wearing a uniform that is long outdated (I’ve even seen non-U.S. military members mislabeled as U.S. military personnel). You have the knowledge that our non-veteran colleagues simply do not possess.

Searching for your job
Fortunately, in recent years prominent organizations have launched national initiatives to hire veterans returning from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. The White House's Joining Forces initiative and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Hiring Our Heroes campaign both have engaged the private sector with the goal of hiring several hundred thousand military veterans and their spouses. During your job search, I recommend looking to these organizations and the military-friendly businesses that have been enlisted as part of this historic and unprecedented effort. And, I applaud PRSA for its outstanding support of veteran hiring as well.

My bottom-line is this: military veterans bring a great and special value to corporate America. But just like you did in the military, you have to earn the respect of your peers in a new environment. Knowing what to play up regarding your military experience can go a long way toward helping you gain that respect and achieve the success you deserve. Best of luck to you!