Contributed by an Unnamed member of the #UnarmedForces

I’m a former SF soldier and I’ve been in the Seattle area for about 25 years. I’ve spent significant time working for a software company, a coffee company, a cell phone company, and a couple of other big firms in this neck of the woods, so I’ll shed what light I can on your situation. 

There is a massive disconnect between the civilian concept of leadership and our concept of leadership. To us, they have no sense of either honor or duty, and few of them would be allowed to lead a group in silent prayer. To them, we’re rude assholes who insist on doing things the hard way. They are timid by nature, focused to an astonishing degree on getting the most reward for the least effort. Doing the right thing for the right reason means little to most of them. Getting honest feedback is difficult because they’re afraid of hurting your feelings. Giving them honest feedback generates Hurt Feelings Reports that WILL win you a one-way trip to HR for out-processing if you keep doing it. Been there, done that.

Also remember that “As hire As and Bs hire Cs” is the unwritten law, and that the sheer competence reflected on your resume is terrifying. Most of these folks think of their careers in three- to five-year increments because they change jobs that often. The last thing they want to do is hire someone who will not just outshine them in front of their bosses, but outshine their bosses in in front of the people who really call the shots. That upsets the order of things and makes their lives harder, so they resist it with all of their might. 

Because of these things, I strongly suggest that you stop talking about your military skills and experience—they make zero sense to most HR people. HR teams have to justify every resume they move forward and hiring managers must justify every person they hire, so most of them only advance people they can defend easily by invoking industry-standard qualifications. Few will go out on a limb for you, so your existing resume will take you straight to the bottom of the pile 99% of the time. Yes, these people are screwing their employers by not taking the time to understand what we’ve done and how it reflects what we’re capable of doing--see my comments on duty and honor above--but they hold the keys, so we need to learn to speak their language.

To do that, make it easy for them to hire you AND defend their decision to hire you. The best way is to earn the certifications they recognize, which generally come in the form of terms like Six Sigma or three-letter acronyms (MBA, PMP, etc.). You can earn some of these on weekends or online. Get in the door at a level below your true abilities, identify the key players, then blow the doors off when they see you perform. I have done this. It takes time, but I promise you that it works.

And I'm not the only one. An old SF buddy spent 20 years on A-detachments and in critical staff jobs. In the civilian world, hiring manager after hiring manager told him that he was a strong candidate who interviewed well. But they weren’t willing to take a chance on him, so they hired people whose qualifications they understood—and that were documented with common three-letter acronyms. It took years, but he finally landed a job for which he was more than qualified at a government agency. His bosses have seen him perform, they understand him, and they are grooming him to have a profound impact on the future of their organization and on the city that employs them. By God and the power invested in him by our shared experiences, he will deliver. Again, this takes time, but it works.

Think of it as a classic unconventional warfare operation: infiltrate, adapt, then take over and lead the savages to glory.

Sorry if this isn’t what you want to hear, but it’s how things have worked out for me.

Let me know if I can help with anything else.

De Opresso Liber