What do the following words have in common: Terrorist, ammunition, enemy, war, destroy?
Each of them has something to do with armed conflict. These are also words that occasionally appear on resumes that I get from veterans who have typically been discharged from the armed services. Not surprisingly, there are plenty of veterans in the field of clinical engineering.
This column can serve two separate perspectives. First, I want to convey to recently separated veterans the importance of deprogramming the military-speak. Second, for people who have never been in the armed services, you may benefit from being reminded that the military does a fabulous job at retooling the thought processes and language of its members. If you want to tap into that resource as a hiring manager, it would do you well to learn more about the military culture.
First, to the veterans: When you are getting ready to ship off to your initial recruit training (a.k.a. “boot camp”), every veteran you encounter wants to tell you about their experience with a furiously mean drill instructor. On about the third hour of boot camp, many people find themselves totally confused with the language that is being forced upon them. On about the third month, the language fog lifts and a newly minted service member begins to make sense of all of the jargon that is commonly tossed around. The military is an industry that seeks to forcefully impose its will on other people. Even if you work in a field that has you repairing life saving equipment, you are constantly reminded that you are part of a much larger machine that takes lives as a means to an end.
Thus, terms such as eliminate, target, and mission are used so commonly that they become part of your daily lexicon. When you get out of the service, it is essential that you reverse many of the language skills that you acquired. At least, you have to eliminate the subtleties of how you use those terms. The comment that I hear a lot is that being a military biomed isn’t easy because of the tremendous amount of cross functionality that is needed when you’re 700 miles away from the nearest supply depot. Thus, you should hire me because I can do a lot more than the next guy with a roll of duct tape and a Swiss Army knife. Unfortunately, what I see conveyed on a resume is often tainted with the terminology that suggests you have not yet decompressed. My advice is simple: Make it a priority to get the military terminology out of your vocabulary. At least get it out of your self-promotional delivery. There are going to be things that can only be explained in a military context. However, in preparation for an interview or in writing a resume, it would probably be useful to go and find someone in advance who is purely non-military and have that person critique your style. The last thing you could possibly need is to find yourself sitting in an interview having that hiring manager wonder if after he hires you whether you’re going to start talking to the nurses about some gruesome thing that you saw when you were over in Iraq. So, let the military come out in how well your shirt is ironed or how shiny your shoes look. Don’t let it come out with “When my unit got deployed, all the 68-Alphas had to do a pre-deployment work-up at Fort Whatever and half of us hadn’t touched five-five-six rounds in a better part of a year or more!” That just doesn’t work. So, my advice: Keep the can-do attitude, drop the jargon.
To the employer: It’s true the military does a fabulous job at forcing people to do miraculous things with limited resources. You just can’t expect that it will be done in an orthodox way. So, how good would it be to have a staff that has been trained and forced to complete a job with failure possibly meaning death? That sounds a little creepy. However, the military has to program this consequence into its people because it is a daily reality. You’ll have to tolerate some griping and you’re going to have to get used to seeing things done in ways that seem backward. The military isn’t terribly concerned with how things get done, just so long as they get done. Back to the jargon. Practice this phrase: “You’ll have to help me out, I never served in the military so I don’t really know what that means. Let’s try to stick to purely civilian terms.” If you say that or some variation of it, the person you’re interviewing will figure it out and drop the battalion-company-platoon-speak, but you may have to remind him or her about it from time to time. My advice – don’t get hung up on it, and if the candidate reverts to military jargon offer a gentle reminder to reel that person back in.
All it takes is a tad of open-mindedness and encouragement and you’ll most likely end up with a loyal and committed employee.
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