Any former Second Lieutenant (Pay Grade O-1) can tell you funny stories about how their Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs) played tricks on them. Messing around with Junior Military Officers (JMOs) was just part of the indoctrination process, rites of passage, or just part of military culture. You know what I'm talking about if you can tell stories about; a can of Squelch, a box of Grid Squares, or a Sky Hook. OK, stop grinning and read on! (If you don't understand, ask somebody.)

One of earliest first Second Lieutenant jokes I heard years ago went like this:

Sergeant: "Lieutenant Pratt, what's the difference between a Second Lieutenant and a Private Second Class?

Second Lieutenant: "I don't know. What?"

Sergeant: "The Private Second Class has been promoted once!"

Let's just say that newly commissioned Officers have some commonly recognizable tendencies, quirks, and characteristics. For example, Military Officers enter the military through different channels than most troops. Certain types of Officers earn their Commission without ever having attended Basic Training (yes, there are exceptions to this). Whether they received their Commission via Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), a Military Service Academy, through Officer Candidate School, or other means (such as an military academy or the direct commission), you enter a military with lots of seasoned troops within its ranks. The troops that Officers lead usually have more "time-in-service", "sweat equity", and have ultimately more experience in military culture. How an Officer navigates this reality often dictates your future happiness and success, along with the future happiness and success of those you lead.

The civilian work world is no different. When hiring a new employee from the Veteran ranks, the expectations are high. As a Veteran, you can expect to be surrounded by some civilian people who know the ropes, understand the company culture, and know how things operate. You are new. You know little or nothing about the ways of the company at first. You're just like a brand new, wet-behind-the-ears, inexperienced Second Lieutenant!

But, before we explore ways to overcome this hurdle, let's take a look at why they hired you in the first place! I'm certain that civilian companies hire Veterans for many of the obvious reasons:

  • We get up early each day.
  • We can lead and follow at the appropriate time.
  • Punching a clock is not normal. We work until stuff gets done.
  • Military people are generally self-starters who will take decisive action in the absence of orders or direction.
  • We have faced extreme situations and can remain calm in any typical corporate crisis.
  • We've been trained on cutting-edge technology in the best military in the world.
  • We set high standards of excellence.
  • We understand the concept of teamwork.

Keep doing all the above as it will take you far as a civilian. Even if you do, you'll still have certain stereotypes and perceptions all military Veterans must face. With this in mind, let's explore some ways you can overcome the perceptions, hurdles, inexperience, and other challenges faced by anyone who enters a civilian career in the form of someone who resembles a "Second Lieutenant":

  • Become a great listener! Take the time to listen and learn what's going on.
  • Find out who the "NCOs" are at the civilian workplace. Just like in the military, "the backbone" of any successful organization begins and ends with NCOs.
  • Keep a good sense of humor. Just like the military, you might become the target of a practical joke or other harmless office prank.
  • Understand the difference between NCO-business and Officer-business.
  • Lead by example. Do the right thing even if nobody is watching.
  • When in charge, take charge! When it's time to follow, support your leader!
  • Be like a sponge - absorb as much information as you can so you can make wise decisions.
  • Understand how the company works. Read first, ask questions, clarify, verify, and do your homework.
  • Remember that people don't care how much you know, until they know how much you care!

I think that last bullet comment says it all!

What experiences can you share about being a newly hired civilian? How much did you resemble an O-1 from your military days?