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Veterans: Be Relevant and Compelling Once the Uniform Comes Off

Close up of a military professional's shoes and jeans next to their uniform and an american flag

5 steps to align your veteran personal brand to the civilian world

Maybe you thought this day would never come. Or, perhaps you’ve been planning for it for years.

From wondering what you’ll do next, to deciding how to transfer your skills and experience to a new employer, to wondering what it takes to be successful in a non-military environment, the transition to the civilian world and taking the uniform off bring many questions. Understanding how to be relevant and compelling to the people who will provide you with career opportunities is a skill to learn and constantly develop.

To make yourself relevant and compelling to others, you can start by uncovering a few aspects of your personal brand:

Your values

During your time in the military, you upheld a set of values that were also supported by those you served with. Now, it might feel confusing to be asked, “What are YOUR values?” You might believe they are the same as the Army, Air Force, Marine Corps, Navy or Coast Guard values that you upheld during your time of service. Consider what your values are: the moral code by which you will live, will make choices by and uphold at all cost. There will likely be alignment or overlap with military values, but now you’ll consider what you, as an individual, believe in and fight for as these will be the anchors of your reputation as you build your civilian career.

This experience was revealing for Max, a veteran who struggled to separate his values from those of the Marine Corps, where he’d served for 12 years. He felt disloyal for having values that deviated from what he’d been taught and what he’d upheld all those years. Upon closer reflection, Max saw there was a lot of symmetry between himself and the military. For instance, the Marine Corps values of “Honor, Courage and Commitment” still rang true for him in his civilian life, but he added “Honesty and Compassion” as those seemed to build out his life more fully. He was passionate about a career in social work and looked forward to adding more candor, truthfulness and love into his work as he continued to serve, just out of uniform.

Who you are

Your values are the anchors of who you are, but dive deeper: what motivates you, brings you joy, causes you to feel pain and fear, and what do you offer that’s valuable? This is important to ensuring that others will understand who you are and why they might want to know you, help you or work with you.

In understanding who you are, first recognize that what you do does not define you. That’s your job. Who you are is how you interact with people, how you make them feel and what you bring to them that’s meaningful and memorable.

Your value proposition

The ways you create opportunity, value and experience for others is where your value proposition lives. When your boss thinks of you, do they see you as a reliable and consistent problem solver? Do they count on your ability to build team morale when everyone is stressed? Do you consistently bring intelligent and innovative insights to complex circumstances? Your value proposition is not a one-off result. It is that consistent value that others rely on you for, where they expect that you will be able to deliver on their expectation of your value over time.

One way that Sarah uncovered her value proposition as she exited her 21-year Air Force career was to think about the problems she solves for the people she seeks to serve. As a program manager in a growing aerospace firm, Sarah was known for being calm under pressure, for being collaborative with her team, yet also able to be decisive when needed. She was a consistently solid manager, and her clients, staff, peers and supervisors recognized her value to the company.

Your target audience

Your target audience is what we call the people or person you seek to build relationships with because they have opportunities you desire. If you owned a business, your customers, employees and community could be your target audience. Without them, you’d have a hard time staying in business! In transitioning from the military into a civilian job, your target audience might include recruiters or hiring professionals at the company you want to work for, networking contacts you’ll need to help you connect into the company, mentors who’ll offer insight and guidance to present yourself effectively and ensure your success, and so on.

After you identify who you want to perceive you as valuable, relevant and compelling, understand what motivates them. Resist the urge to only focus on what they need to know. Explore their emotional needs, too.

For example, when Kurt was leaving the Navy and pursuing work on Wall Street, he identified a recruiter at a large investment firm as his primary target audience. He knew she’d need to see him as skilled in math, possessing advanced degrees in finance and economics, and experienced as a budget analyst in the Navy. Kurt then needed to consider what she’d need to feel about him in order to consider him. He determined she’d need to feel he was passionate about investment protocols, could be trusted with confidential information and was dedicated to growing the firm. By examining both the functional and emotional needs of his target audience, he could initiate and build a relationship with the recruiter during the interview and secure an offer.

Align your offer with your target audience’s goals. Associate what you’re passionate about, trained in and good at with the needs and wants of the people you want to serve.

Perhaps, for example, you’re targeting a large healthcare company (your dream employer) and a position they’re recruiting for in the information technology department. They’re hiring for an application designer, and you have development and design skills, learned in your post-military education. They’re also a company that values teamwork, commitment to excellence and working calmly under pressure. Your goal, in positioning yourself for this opportunity, is not only to showcase your technical skills and aptitude, but also your personality, values and professional goals.

When you are able to show this employer that you can serve them – functionally and emotionally – and that their goals align with yours, you are seen as relevant and compelling to them.

How you want to be perceived

Others will assign you value based on how they perceive your value to them. As you move through the transition from the military to the civilian sector, pay attention to the ways people will judge, view and perceive you. If the perception others have of you is not in alignment with your reputation goals, you may miss out on critical opportunities. For example, if you’re seen as pushy, hard to work with or short-tempered, your employer may find your skills not valuable enough to weather the personality you bring. Similarly, if you’re perceived as collaborative, helpful, effective and skilled, then future opportunities may be afforded to you because people enjoy working with you and learning from you.

Instead of hoping others will see you as valuable, or expecting they will appreciate what you bring, become intentional about creating the perception you’d like them to have of you, which aligns with your professional goals.

Building relevancy and being seen as compelling means the people you seek to serve, influence, inspire and impact will consistently refer to you, endorse you and offer you opportunities. Today, more than ever before, it’s up to you – the individual – to drive the perception you want others to have of you to enjoy a meaningful and successful post-military career.