November 11, 2016
Why hire veterans? Because it’s good business. Set aside all of the other considerations like altruism and patriotism, and look at what they bring in terms of competence and productivity. There are some key characteristics unique to veterans. So while this person may not bring a lot of professional experience or marketable skills, he or she can easily learn new skills to do a job.
Research ﬁnds these to be the most notable military characteristics:
Loyalty. In the military, your immediate superior knows you, probably knows your family, and is concerned with you as a member of the community on and off the job. It is that manager’s job to ‘‘take care of’’ the team, which can mean being brought into team members’ personal lives, celebrations, and challenges of all types. The sense of community contributes to loyalty and may be instructive to civilian managers striving for loyal employees and high retention.
Values. The military has a very strong culture, speciﬁc ways of doing things, procedures and protocol, which are necessary to serve the mission. Most civilian organizations don’t ask employees to put their lives on the line every day (or any day), but the military does, so it requires structure and rigor in order to minimize risk. Values are baked into the operating procedures and language and are inherent in each individual member. This is a tremendous asset of the veteran job candidate.
Discipline. In the military, discipline means doing things the right way even if the right way takes longer to accomplish; it means following protocol to the letter to ensure consistent results, rather than increasing risk by improvising. Discipline is viewed as an operating principle, a way of being, the ‘‘right’’ way to get things done. In the civilian world this translates to employees you can count on to see a task through to completion, and to do so under extremely stressful conditions.
Ownership/accountability. Ownership and accountability are characteristic of the military way of operating, and servicemembers bring this to the civilian workplace. Finger pointing and avoiding blame are a coward’s way out, and the ‘‘right’’ manner of dealing with errors is to own up to them. Many times it is the veteran in an organizational team or division who sets the example for others to act with greater integrity as well.
Leadership. Any length of military service—even just one three-year tour of duty— will include training and experience in leadership. The one thing that makes the military run effectively is a constant pipeline of leaders at every level (rank) in the hierarchy.
In the civilian workplace, people can advance into management roles based on business results (e.g., sales ﬁgures) rather than on demonstrated leadership skills and ability. But when you hire veterans, you can be sure that they do have some degree of administrative management ability, if not higher-level leadership strength.
Strategy. In the military, everything is a large-scale operation. For this reason, veterans can often conceive of strategy and change at a larger scale than the average civilian. This is not to say that everyone comes out of the service with strategy experience, but they have been part of a huge machine, a huge organization, and they have been part of making it work. Things that may intimidate or bafﬂe civilians are often less overwhelming for a veteran.
Diverse experience. Military servicemembers typically change jobs and/or locations every three years. In this regard, a military résumé and skill set can look completely different from that of a civilian because it may reﬂect many unrelated roles that aren’t connected on what looks like a coherent career path. Veterans are also accustomed to working with a diversity of people.
Bringing order to chaos. This is in some ways a summary of all previous strengths. Military servicemembers often have experience in structuring processes and coordinating large groups of people. For example, consider a team that doesn’t communicate or get along and that misses deadlines and has a reputation for being difﬁcult to work with. To the average manager, this can look like one big nightmare to deal with. A veteran, on the other hand, might look at it and immediately see a path to order and getting things on track.
Important credentials. The military heavily invests time and money toward training servicemembers. Consequently, many have received extensive (and expensive!) technical training and certiﬁcations. This represents a tremendous cost savings to civilian organizations that hire veterans.
There are three beneﬁts to understanding the unique strengths of veterans. First, you can leverage veterans as broadly as possible to serve your organization and to satisfy the veteran, who may not want to be limited to skills used in the most recent military job held. Second, you can frame relevant interview questions, and third, if you hire veterans, you err on the side of making favorable assumptions rather than succumbing to unfavorable (and probably unintentional) assumptions based on stereotypes of the military.
Excerpted with permission of the publisher from Field Tested: Recruiting, Managing and Retaining Veterans, by Emily King (AMACOM Books, 2011).