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  • Scott Zigmond

How Your “PLATOON” Characteristics Can Help You Transition to a New Civilian Career

Updated: Oct 1, 2021

What are you bringing to an organization after you have departed the military? What does your new organization expect from you? What perceptions do civilians have of veterans in the workplace?

These are common questions, and fears, that some veterans have as they transition from the military to the civilian world. As a veteran and someone who has seen many people successfully transition to the civilian world over the last 25+ years, be confident that are you going to bring a great deal of value to your new team. There is no better way to end your military service and start your civilian life than with memorizing yet ANOTHER acronym to help you in this transition—PLATOON!

A platoon is defined as a “group of persons sharing a common characteristic or activity” (Merriam Webster Dictionary). You have built up many characteristics in your time in the military and I have observed many former military members bringing immediate value to their organizations. Each of you has the same ability to bring your “PLATOON” characteristics to your new job. This is what I see veterans bringing to their new teams every day and I know each of you can bring the same traits- and many more!

People Skills No matter your rank or where you served, you have learned how to work with people from all different walks of life. You have developed your people skills over time and understand what motivates others to do a good job. You can see when someone is not doing the best they can and asking them what is holding them back. Think of a time where you had to use your people skills to work through a problem with a teammate---you’re good at this and you will need to continue to hone your people skills to get things done.

Leadership Part of leadership is showing up, being present and being active. I took for granted all the leadership training I received starting even in Basic Training as well as all the other courses, training sessions and “on the spot corrections.” Over the last number of years, you could not have escaped learning what makes a good leader and what makes a bad leader. Here’s hoping you have retained those answers, as it’s vitally important for you to exhibit those skills in your new role. Your company did not hire you to just sit back---take action! Years ago, I attended another leadership course with one of my former employers and learned a great tag line---“lead from where you are at.” It doesn’t matter what your new role is, lead from where you are at. The military has given you ample opportunities to lead and you can take these experiences with you.

After Action Reviews (AARs) All of us learned how to learn from our mistakes---the AAR! This is a valuable tool to use at your new company and if you use it, you will bring immediate value to the team. What did we do well? What did we do poorly? What can we do differently next time? There are variations of this exercise, but if you implement this process and take these lessons learned, you will make your team better immediately.

Teamwork No other organization relies on teamwork more than the military. Many times, the bond created by going through similar hardships (i.e., basic training, PT tests, etc.) improve the team attitude. You have learned a great deal on what makes a functioning team and what makes a dysfunctional team. Think about all the teams you have been on since joining the military and all that you have learned from those experiences. Your civilian counterparts most likely have not had that number of experiences, so you will bring a great deal of knowledge to them about team dynamics.

Operating Mechanisms Implementing tight operating mechanisms or processes, allows teams to achieve their goals more effectively and efficiently. How many checklists have you had to follow? How much training have you gone through for the simplest of tasks? Don’t assume your new team has these processes in place and take action to find out if they do or not. If they don’t, find a way to improve your processes to help the team achieve their goals in a simpler and possibly more cost-effective way.

Openness to New Ideas There is a misperception by many who have not served that military members just “follow orders”. My experiences in Germany and Somalia showed me how creative our force is and what wonderful problem solvers they are even when they don’t have all the resources they need. I’m sure each of you has your own stories about how creative you or your team had to become to solve something or achieve the mission. Be open to new ideas and make sure you are bringing new ideas forward.

Networking From the first day of basic training all the way through your last day of service, you have constantly networked to find answers. Who shines shoes the best? Where is the best off-post restaurant? Who has the best field food/boodle? Which maintenance outfit always has spare parts? Use this inquisitive nature to learn how you and your team can get better. We may not always have the answers to a question, but we have learned how to network to go find those answers.

When you begin to interview for new jobs, be ready for the question, “How is hiring you going to benefit our business?” The interviewer is really exhibiting a trait many call “WIIFM,” or “What’s In It For Me?” Be ready for that question and use the PLATOON characteristics to answer that question and prove to that person that you going to bring value to their team every day. Be confident and take what you have learned in the military and apply it to your new craft.

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