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Bringing Military's Values to the Civilian Job Market

By Kathleen Brill
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, July 19, 2004; 4:59 PM

Job hunters with a military background offer many attractive selling points to the civilian job market, says Derrick Dortch, a career counselor at Georgetown University.

Transferable skills such as leadership, decision-making and managing chaos are qualities to emphasize in job interviews and on resumes, he says.


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"Improvise, adapt and overcome" is an approach Dortch learned in the Marines, which trained him to analyze situations and fix problems quickly.

"There are going to be unpredictable situations ... you improvise and build ... to accomplish your mission," Dortch says. "I think it translates directly into the workplace."

Dortch recommends thinking of specific stories that describe skills developed in the military, including leadership, diplomacy and respect for authority "without being weak."

On civilian job interviews, Dortch recounts one of his Marine training exercises involving a hostage rescue. When he determined the hostages' lives were in danger, he and a fellow Marine took off their rank insignia and ordered a medical evacuation in an attempt to save the hostages' lives. Their direct superior questioned their decision, but a higher-ranking colonel later agreed with their judgment call. Dortch says he continues to use this story to demonstrate his ability to make good decisions in a crisis situation.

"Most military people train to manage stress, and can easily handle it," Dortch says.

The military also teaches how to identify weakness in a system or team and how to avert problems. Such willingness to resolve issues quickly can allow people to become "change agents" within businesses, he says.

Values for Leadership

Integrity and honesty are core values in the military, where potentially life-saving decisions may be made on a daily basis. Former Air Force Col. Tim Davidson says that military personnel must be exactly right. "If they say they have done something, they've really done it; if they say they will do something, they will do it."

Such dedication to high standards and honesty is key to strong individual leadership that will benefit any organization, especially when it comes to giving honest feedback to coworkers.

"It can be an honesty barometer," Davidson says, adding that the military trains people to "know when to say things that aren't working right; military people aren't afraid to speak up."

During interviews with potential employers, describe how military experience teaches self-discipline and dedication, says Davidson. "Tell them what it means to hang in with a place, day in and day out ... show them you're dedicated to do your job, so they can trust you."

Editor's note: This article by Kathleen Brill, was first acquired by washingtonpost.com on February 24, 2003.


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