Editor’s note: The following commentary was contributed by Air Force veteran Bryan Zawikowski of Lucas Group. The content may be edited for clarity, style and length.
Change is never easy in life, and one of the toughest transitions anyone can go through is a significant career shift. Not all career changes are created equally, though, and one of the most challenging can be the move from active duty military to corporate America.
It’s the same journey that Lucas Group founder Art Lucas took when he left the Army and started this company in 1970 and a process that I began back in 1992 when I decided to transition out of the Air Force. Having now been in the business of helping veterans go through this same process for almost 25 years, I’ve seen what companies do especially well in setting up veterans for success.
I’ve also seen my fair share of mistakes from organizations that fail to recognize some key differences between someone coming from corporate America, compared to someone with a military background. As a result, I’ve assembled a list of five critical ways companies can help to transition military personnel into the private sector more effectively.
1. Don’t ghost during the interview process.
Companies need to structure their interview process to be attractive to military personnel, who are used to people who do what they say and say what they do. That means when companies interview a military candidate and promise to follow up by a certain date, they need to follow through and stay in touch. While a disorganized interview process may be the norm for traditional candidates, veterans are often turned off by companies they perceive to be fundamentally disorganized.
2. Have a thorough onboarding process.
While employers will often assure new employees that “there are no stupid questions,” the fact remains that new hires will have a ton of questions they know are basic. One common characteristic many veterans share is a deep sense of pride and a fear of ever appearing weak. For that reason, it’s critical for employers to create a clear onboarding process so that the majority of the “dumb questions” that might get asked are already answered. Beyond that, it’s also helpful to provide a mentor for a new military hire that creates a safe space to ask any and all questions without judgment.
3. Establish a clear power structure.
There is often ambiguity in the business world, but that is unusual in the military. Veterans are used to following rank and knowing exactly who they report to in every instance, as the alternative can be extremely dangerous. While companies in the private sector are rarely going to mirror this precision in leadership structure, it is important to clearly lay out direct reports to new military hires, who see this structure as critical to their success.
4. Lay out a clear career path.
While enlisted, military personnel know where they can potentially advance and anticipate promotions based on rank, time and grade. When companies interview veterans, they should lay out potential opportunities for growth within the company and set rough expectations for when these might occur. Veterans know that promotions aren’t guaranteed in either the military or the private sector, but they want to know that growth is possible in any role they accept.
5. Avoid overpromising and under-delivering.
At the end of the day, military personnel are used to giving and following orders. If you say you are going to do something to a subordinate or get a request from a superior, the expectation is that it will get done. When working with a veteran, especially someone who is early in their transition to corporate life, avoid overpromising and under-delivering as much as possible. The more consistently a company can follow through on its commitments, the more likely they are to keep military personnel engaged in the organization.
Every veteran’s transition to the private sector is different, and some are more difficult than others. These guidelines provide a baseline for companies as they look to attract and retain valuable military candidates.
Bryan Zawikowski is vice president and general manager of the Military Transition Division for Lucas Group, an executive recruiting firm.