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Navigating the transition: From Salutes to Handshakes

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Entering the workforce can be a daunting experience for many new graduates, who may feel apprehensive about starting their first job in their field of study. The familiar routine of structure can be drastically different from what you’ll experience in an office environment. However, with the right mindset and prep, you can make a smooth transition into your new career.

For me, a decade of service work in the Royal New Zealand Navy ended three months ago when I joined the team at Adaptiv. In this blog, I’ll talk about the challenges you’re likely to face, based on my first-hand experiences, and offer advice on how to overcome or avoid them.

Finding the job

The first step is to find the right job that suits your skills and preferences. If you’re worried at this point, don’t be – there are plenty of resources available to help you.

If you are leaving the NZDF, make sure you talk to the Career Transition team. They provide 1:1 sessions to help you figure out what job you want to get and help tailor your resume to show off the skills you have learned in your time in the military.

If you already know what field you want to get into, make sure you look up what job resources are available for you there; For myself, I knew I wanted to do something with my Computer Science degree, so one of the platforms I advertised myself on was “Summer of Tech”, an organisation that helps connect recent tech grads to companies looking for new employees.

These types of platforms are everywhere, and I highly suggest you use them to put yourself out there. (?)

Getting Ready

All the study I had done at university had prepared me for the work I was about to do, but the environment I was about to do it in was still an unknown.

Look, I get it. You’re eager to start your new job and make a splash. But trust me, jumping in headfirst like a cannonball isn’t the best way to do it. Remember, I’m here to help you swim and with a bit of preparation, you’ll be able to make a smooth entry to the corporate and avoid any unnecessary ‘belly flops’.


One of the major benefits of life in the military is that, if you don’t mind not being able to put anything on the walls, you can live at or very close to your workplace in Military Accommodation. Now I had to work out how to do a commute.

If you are able to walk or cycle to your new job, lucky you. Just make sure you have an umbrella/rain jacket next to your door in case the weather is bad.

If you take public transport or drive, my advice is to have a backup plan. Setting up a Google Maps alert telling you if there is heavy traffic or your bus is cancelled is only half the job, you will want to already know what backup bus you should be catching, how much that will change your travel time, whether you need to email your boss saying you’ll be in 10 min later than usual.

There’s nothing more frustrating than missing a bus or a train because you were too busy looking up the route or schedule. Being proactive and having a backup plan in place, you can avoid this kind of situation and arrive at work on time and with your sanity intact.


As someone who has made the transition from the military, I can relate to the challenge of finding and deciding what to wear. Until recently, I knew exactly what I was going to wear the next day, down to the colour and material of my socks, so the term “smart casual” was a bit of a mystery.

If you’re overwhelmed by the prospect of deciding what to wear every day, I’d recommend starting small. For me, a quick trip to AS Colour and Hallensteins meant I was able to swap my hanging uniform for business attire and have a whole week’s worth ready to go at once.

Thankfully, a couple of company shirts helped eliminate some of the decision paralysis, and after a few days I was able to figure out what was appropriate to wear to the office.

(Make sure you don’t accidentally iron uniform creases into your polo shirts though, you’ll get some interesting looks)

Remember, dressing for the corporate world is all about finding a style that makes you feel confident and professional. Take it one step at a time, and don’t be afraid to ask your colleagues or team lead for guidance. With a bit of effort (and some trial and error), you’ll soon find yourself looking the part!

Blending In

In the military, everything is called something else. This phenomenon is so widespread there are entire books dedicated to deciphering it, and it even applies to yourself.

For the past decade, the only people who called me by my first name were my parents and my boyfriend, I’m sure my boss must have thought I was hard of hearing for the first few weeks, as it would take a few repetitions of my name before I would remember “Oh, that’s me.”

During my last few weeks on ship I made a conscious effort to note down all the military jargon I was so used to using and replacing it with the outside equivalent.

It’s called the ceiling, not the deckhead.

It’s called lunch, not smoko.

It’s called the restroom, not the heads.

It’s called popping down to countdown for a snack, not heading to hotshots for some duff and a goffa.

I still find myself starting emails with “Dear Sir/Ma’am”, but making a deliberate effort to change the language I use has greatly helped me fit in.

Don’t stress if it feels overwhelming to begin with, the language will come to you naturally with time!

Making Friends

If you’re transitioning from military service to the civilian workforce, you’ll find that the social environment has changed significantly. In the military your colleagues were likely your entire world – you worked, ate in the same halls and even lived in the same barracks together. This level of closeness may not be the same in the corporate world, and its natural to feel apprehensive about it.

One piece of advice I can offer is to be proactive about building relationships with your coworkers. Take advantage of social opportunities, like after-work drinks or weekly team events, to get to know your colleagues outside of work. These events may not be mandatory, but they can be valuable opportunities to network and acclimate to office culture.

In my experience, finding a company with a great social scene can make all the difference. Luckily for me Adaptiv has a great social scene. It only took ten minutes into my first Friday after-work drinks to find myself a couple of rounds deep into a board game with my new workmates, and eagerly discussing which one I could bring to play next week.

Adaptiv also had weekly morning teas for the whole workplace, which were great opportunities to meet everyone and munch on delicious sausage rolls.

I won’t discount the fact that the military has far too many “Sure it’s optional, but you absolutely have to be there” events, and we have all suffered through them. So take a page out of the military playbook and suck it up, be proactive about building relationships and I’m sure you’ll thrive in your new environment.

Wrapping it up

There are far too many things to get used to for me to write about all of them, but here is a handy top 10 list of the points I have covered here and the next most helpful ones (need to reword).

1. Make sure you use all the resources available to you while still in the military.

2. Now that you might not live on base, have a back-up plan when commuting

3. It’s totally fine to buy several similar shirts and have them all ready to go at the start of the week like you used to do with your uniform.

4. Consciously strive to avoid using military jargon to prevent any confusion.

5. Be proactive with workplace social events.

6. It is important to maintain an active lifestyle, as working at a desk burns fewer calories than marching around the base all day.

7. Make sure you know how the Employment Relations Act differs from the Defence Act, there are some interesting differences.

8. Be mindful to disconnect and avoid bringing work home, as your new job is simply a job and not a lifestyle like it was in the military.

9. If you are leaving from a job that involves shift work to an office environment people may be shocked by the amount of caffeine you are used to ingesting, assure them this is normal.

10. Give yourself time to adjust. Basic training takes months, so does adapting to any new environment.

If you’re an ex-military or looking to transition to the civilian workforce, feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn or keep up to date with our latest news, resources and events on

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