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Vets Need to Speak the Language of their Next Employer

Each industry, company, and team communicate with each other in a particular “language” which separates their culture from that of their competitors while relating to their target audience of clients, investors, media, etc. Their internal narrative, tone, phrasing and messaging is what that makes a company’s language unique.

A key part of a job search is understanding the company language. As a veteran transitioning into civilian life you can’t expect to build relationships and earn credibility in a new job if you communicate in a different way than your coworkers, supervisors, and customers.

Let’s consider how a disconnect with company language can appear using Joe, my mentee mentioned above, as an example. Lets say Joe is applying for a project management position in a mid-size accounting firm located on the west coast. The firm boasts on its website that they have a fun, “work-hard-play-hard” company culture, and a customer-first attitude. From what Joe reads on social media and on the company’s website, they appear to be an outgoing and pleasant collection of accounting professionals.

Joe decides to apply. Across the top he uses the headline, “Weapons Specialist Seeking Project Management Leader Role”. Along with a list of the unique skills he developed while serving in the military, Joe includes several of his soft skills and character traits. These include the ability to work well under pressure, exceptional stress management, quick decision-making skills in high risk scenarios, and an aptitude for evaluating threats and responding in real-time. Joe believes these skills will be beneficial to someone in a project management position.

He does not hear back from the company.

Joe did not consider the company culture. His abilities, experience, and talents would be valuable to a project manager, but he did not adapt his message to meet the language of his target company. The company promotes its customer interaction and is obviously proud of its fun and energetic character and personable reputation. It’s likely that Joe’s job application, especially with the headline, was viewed as intimidating, intense, and perhaps even threatening. It’s very probable that the recruiter or hiring manager who reviewed Joe’s resume is a civilian with no framework for the skills and experience Joe used in the Army, aside from what he or she has seen on television.

Joe should instead have tried to come across as more relatable. After reviewing the website, he should have tailored his application to emphasize his values and goals, and to show why his skills as a project manager would help the company to continue building its reputation as a leader in its field. Emphasizing his soft skills and how they would make the job more effective and enjoyable for his colleagues and improve the customer experience would have been beneficial. He could have used what he learned about the company’s values and narrative to speak their language in his application and resume.

Companies promote their values, culture and systems as a way to help job candidates understand where they align. Understanding a company’s culture will allow applicants to modify their approach to the needs of a potential employer. Understanding a company’s personality and how you’ll fit in is a big part of the civilian workplace experience. Remember, what we do is often less important than how we do it.