I had a client approach me recently with a question about military veterans in the civilian workforce:
“How resilient are military veterans and how will they deal with rejection?….because it’s an inevitable component of B2B sales.”
In my experience running a veteran-centric training company, I’ve found that two major factors lead to a veteran’s ability to cope with rejection: veterans have stress-tested leadership experience and a healthy amount of pride.
One glaring misnomer about the military is that veterans may not react to rejection well because when they were in the military they had instruction manuals for how to solve every problem they could possibly face. It is true that there are a ridiculous number of publications and tech manuals at your disposal, however, this couldn’t be further from the truth. On a Navy ship, this is how a problem solving situation would typically play out for a division officer or senior enlisted leader. First, a piece of equipment breaks and everyone freaks out. The Captain and your Department Head authoritatively warn you that we cannot maintain our operational capabilities without this vital piece of equipment. “Fix it as soon as possible” they would exclaim! Second, you huddle up with your senior enlisted leaders and any technical resources you can pull in. Everyone comes in with a diversity of experiential advice, and as the leader, everyone is looking to you to synthesize these inputs and make sound decisions under pressure. So you leverage the resources you have, diving into tech manuals while listening to the experts around you; identify a root cause (probably not just one); work with Supply to procure parts which often are halfway around the world; and adjust your personnel and resources to compensate for the recently discovered degradation. Third, you stand up in front of the entire ship and brief your plan of action which typically gets rejected a few times before a positive consensus builds around your efforts. Every day leaders of all branches of the military, both officer and enlisted, experience rejection, pushback and pressure from stakeholders.
Lastly, military veterans are proud. A servicemember’s reputation within his or her command is probably the most important aspect of the job, and each day a significant amount of time and energy is dedicated to maintaining and growing that reputation. During the military-to-civilian transition, this pride-driven approach to the workplace does not diminish. If anything, new “civilian” challenges provide us with a fresh canvas on which to build our newfound brand. Furthermore, veterans hate losing. When put into a competitive environment, veterans all want to be the best at what they do. They are typically honest about their shortcomings and thrive when given feedback from management – because we know just how important having an element of self-criticism can be to the greater mission. Whether rejection hits us in the face like a freight train or threatens us with a slow death, something pulls at us to stand back up and say, “what’s the next step?” This courage in the face of fear and failure, I believe, stems from pride.
It’s hard to say if military veterans cope with rejection so well because of their collective experiences, particularly in the military, or because it’s in their DNA. Whether it’s a learned skill or an inherent trait is more or less irrelevant. Transitioning veterans wake up and expect things to break down, and we have become accustomed to preparing for the worst while driving for the best. This is where we thrive; it’s what we expect. So yah, I think veterans take rejection pretty darn well.
This article was co-authored by Justin Ossola and Katie Goossen.
Justin Ossola is the co-founder of Tech Qualled, a boutique training and placement company dedicated to preparing transitioning veterans for success in the high tech space. He is a 13-year Navy veteran, U.S. Naval Academy and Harvard graduate and a former Oracle sales consultant.
Katie Goossen is the Candidate Success Manager for Tech Qualled. She is a former Air Force veteran, graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy and University of Oxford, and a proven Human Resources leader now leveraging her experience to help transitioning veterans launch into a successful civilian career.
For more on Tech Qualled, visit www.qualled.com.