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Any lucrative career opportunity will require some type of selling. You may sell a product or service. But minimally you have to effectively market your abilities to get a good job. Yet, when I speak with veterans most will not consider learning to sell. The moment they hear the word they think of shady methods, abuse of customers, or just plain sleaze. It’s a shame. In today’s civilian world you cannot escape having to sell yourself. Lack of this valuable skill closes many doors.
The Misperception about Sales and the Military
Recently I was talking with a friend about differences between military and civilian life. I told him civilians sell their qualifications to get the job they want. But service members don’t. On further reflection, I oversimplified the situation.
The military’s massive recruiting effort shows you don’t need to market yourself to get in. But beginning with basic training, your ability to sell how well you’ve adapted to military life impacts the rest of your career. One of my first counselees is a case in point.
Days after arriving in Okinawa, I was asked to speak with a young, female Marine. She had gotten drunk the night before and showed up for duty unable to work. Unfortunately, this was not her first infraction. She had a reputation as a troublemaker during boot camp and follow-on training. Once I learned all the facts I saw her situation was not her fault alone. But we could not overcome the poor way she had presented her character. She sold the Marine Corps on the idea she wouldn’t accept its ethos. In the end, she got kicked out.
The need to sell yourself in the military doesn’t stop with character. Through a well-defined career path, you can show your willingness to develop new skills and leadership ability. Then you have the opportunity to prove mastery on the job. Your success determines the quality of the jobs you’re offered next time you comes up for orders. There’s not a lot of room to market yourself directly to the detailer. (Note: The detailer determines a service member’s next billet.) That’s because he learned about your performance from the supervisors of your last job.
Like with any pyramid structure, those who make it to the top have superior sales ability. They bring the attention of decision makers to their skills and achievements. This is as it should be. Senior enlisted people and officers lead. This duty requires mastery of using influence to meet a desired outcome. At the pinnacle, general and flag officers interact with civilian leadership to determine and implement national defense strategy. If they are not adroit at selling their ideas, the defense of our nation would break down.
Intentionality as a Salesperson
For both civilians and service members, the best salespeople advance. The difference lies in how aware each is of this process. Since it’s part of the system, many in the military don’t realize their performance determines their future employment prospects. As a result, they don’t develop the skill of intentionally selling themselves. Worse, they get the idea that it’s not necessary. “I didn’t have to do this in the military. Why should I have to do it in civilian life? It’s not fair. It’s wrong!”
Organizations need astute marketers and self-marketers more than ever. You need to learn how to sell yourself. You’ll need to be assertive yet humble. Rather than staying stuck in the military model, work to gain the skills to make yourself standout. You took off the uniform that made you look like everyone else in the military. Now unmask the inner you so employers and customers can see your true value.
What keeps you from selling yourself well? Please comment below.