Top 3 Ways to Use Your Military Leadership Experience in the Civilian World

Updated: March 7, 2017


By RU Twisted

A military-to-civilian transition is difficult for many. Translating the skills you acquired in places like Iraq and Afghanistan to working for Initech can be nearly impossible.

So as someone with a decent amount of experience in both the civilian and military worlds, I’d like to offer the following three ways to convey your expertise in the marketplace, so you’re not getting passed over in favor of Joe Corporate for either a new job or a promotion.

  • Lead by example. This sounds stupid-simple, but it’s a concept lost on many. Ask yourself—how seriously did you take a leader in the military who mandated high PT scores while falling out of runs and suddenly having an appointment on the day of a ruck march? Now as yourself a follow-up question: was being skeptical of leaders like that something the military taught you, or was it intuitive?

    Lead by example

    Lead by example

    We have a natural skepticism for people who don’t practice what they preach. So, as the saying goes, don’t be that guy. Don’t be the one who expects more of a situation than they put into it. Whether job hunting or activities at a job, outwork everyone. Be the one everyone else looks at and wonders, how could I keep up with that?

    Again, this sounds really simple, but it’s not, and the reason why might surprise you: because almost no one does it. That pace you set as a “lead by example” warrior in the military? Very, very few people in the civilian world will be able to keep up with that; and it’s going to show. Use it.


  • Accountability. This sounds a bit more esoteric, but makes complete sense once we voice it out loud: be accountable and be able to demonstrate it. One of the first things you’re asked in a leadership position in the military is, “where are your troops?” or a variation thereof. Keeping accountability of your people is of first and foremost responsibility.Being able to demonstrate accountability of the most valuable resources is of tremendous value to the civilian job market. But learning how to translate it is nothing short of an art that requires serious attention. On a resume to Initech, you weren’t “responsible for 7 warfighters, 8 M4s, 1 240B, 1 SAW, 3 explosive projectile weapons, and in charge of a squad that killed 25 Taliban,” you were a “Manager of Technological Implementation Initiatives, responsible for $1million-plus in personnel and resources for 2 years.”

    Accountability is also crucial for one more reason: because almost no one in today’s society is. Everyone wants to pretend that everything is the responsibility of someone else. Demonstrating the ability and know-how to take responsibility will set you apart.

  • Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everyone in the room. Sound extreme? It is, but only because you’re not translating it into corporate-ese.


    It may look different now, but it’s still a storm.

    Be polite: our society seems to have a serious problem with this one right now and it is showing no signs of getting any better. Regardless of all the politically correct nonsense you see coming out of college campuses, a sir, ma’am, handshake, looking people in the eye, and speaking respectfully goes a very long way. It may be a sad indicator of our current state of societal woes, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use it to your advantage.

    Be professional: obviously you need to drop the salute and haircut for something more appropriate to the business world, but if you put the same care into your appearance—to include how you present yourself with the way you walk and talk—that you did as a Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine, then you’ll be ahead of 99% of the civilians out there. Everything you do should exude “professionalism.” Don’t know what that is or how it applies to the world you’re trying to get a job in? Research it. Figure it out. It may be different for various job fields or companies, so figure out what that term means in their environment while never forgetting the fundamentals you learned in yours.

    Have a plan to kill everyone in the room: does this sound out of touch with modern, corporate America? It’s not—again, it just requires a reimagining of terminology.

    Killing in combat is the apex of engagement in a martial sense. When the infantry engages with a target, there are a number of possible outcomes, but at the top of the list is killing it. Ideally, this is done as quickly and efficiently as possible, which requires tenacity, the will to survive in spite of the many elements trying to stop you, and a solid plan for getting to the target and what to do once there.

    Want to “kill it” in your next interview? Develop a plan that enables you to engage with everyone in the room and do so with the appropriate type of tenacity. Want to make more sales than the next guy? Push through all the factors trying to prevent you from doing so as if your life depended on it. Want to beat out a co-worker for promotion? Then wait until no one is looking and rear-naked choke that motherfu…

    Whoa, kinda got away from it there, but you know what I’m saying. You want to be successful? Learn how that killer instinct works in your world—not just the one you came from.

Ultimately, there’s a lot of skills you learned in the military that apply to the business world. These are just the top three that popped into my head.

Well, aside from “calling for fire,” which is hugely beneficial in nearly every meeting related to “equal opportunity.”



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