How Asking for Help Could Save a Veteran's Career
I recently had the honor of speaking to hundreds of student veterans at the annual Student Veterans of America National Conference in Florida. As happens often, when I introduce the topic of asking for help on the job, questions fly in. Let's address a few of those questions here:
"Won't I be seen as not knowing how to do my job if I ask for help?"
If you've been hired or promoted into a job you're not suited for, it's possible that asking for help on basic tasks could reveal your lack of qualifications. Let's say you're hired to be a project manager in an Agile software environment, and your first day on the job, you have questions about basic Agile software processes. That's not a good sign.
But think about it this way: If you were hired into a position you're not qualified for, why not seek the support and additional resources to grow into the role? If you aren't able to do the work adequately, your employer will find out, and rather than be caught off guard, you can initiate the conversation by asking for help.
If, however, there are aspects of your work that are unfamiliar to you but you know how to do the job, asking for help allows you to refine your skills and hone your talents in this new direction. Perhaps you're working with a different system, technology or within a different culture than you did in the military.
Then, asking for help is almost expected -- how could you possibly know this if you've never done it? While you'll have other resources to get help from (the internet, your network, mentors and more), asking for assistance on the job can show your employer that you're confident enough to reach out for help when needed and won't risk the project's or team's success because of your lack of knowledge. This is what's meant by, "asking for help is a sign of strength."
"Can I ask for help on emotional struggles, or should I only look for help related to my job?"
You are hired into a company as a complete human being -- skills, talents, experiences, emotions and more. If your emotional needs are related to your work or the company, you should find someone to talk it through with, such as your manager, mentor or someone in human resources.
You may have a personality conflict with a colleague, for example, and you believe they're undermining your credibility on the job. This can affect you emotionally as you resist offering your opinion or sharing information with others. Over time, your self-esteem and confidence can erode, and you worry about whether this company is right for you. These emotions, or feelings, are real and important, and your boss should help you manage them. On the other hand, if you're upset because your landlord yelled at you, your boyfriend left you or you worry that you've put on weight, these personal emotions might not be appropriate to discuss at work. Your work friends might be a sounding board for these feelings, or you might choose to discuss them with family outside of the job.
"I feel like no one here understands where I come from and what it was like in the military. I feel alone at work. How can I ask for help around that?"
It's entirely possible that you don't work alongside others who've served in the military or have your same set of experiences. Still, you can find others who are empathetic and understanding of the differences between the military and civilian culture, and who can help you navigate these new systems, communications, culture and relationships.
Enlist the support of a mentor. Whether at your company or outside, your mentor can help you troubleshoot challenges and roadblocks you're experiencing, can help you navigate the civilian work environment and will provide support to help you through your struggles.
Asking for help is a critical skill to learn. While you might feel exposed and vulnerable and fear being seen as weak, the opposite is true. Consider this: When someone asks you for help, do you perceive them that way? Or are you glad they reached out and are eager to help them?
Everyone needs help with their skills, relationships, cultural shifts, change management and all the other intricate nuances of every job. Your company leaders, peers, friends and family want to see you succeed in your post-military life. Let them help you.
The author of "Success After Service: How to Take Control of Your Job Search and Career After Military Duty" (2020) and "Your Next Mission: A personal branding guide for the military-to-civilian transition" (2014), Lida Citroën is a keynote speaker and presenter, executive coach, popular TEDx speaker and instructor of multiple courses on LinkedIn Learning. She regularly presents workshops on personal branding, executive presence, leadership communication and reputation risk management. A contributing writer for Military.com, Lida is a passionate supporter of the military, volunteering her time to help veterans transition to civilian careers and assist employers who seek to hire military talent. She regularly speaks at conferences, corporate meetings and events focused on military transition.