This is a re-post of an article I published in October 2011 "Hiring Former Military is a Smart Move." It seems fitting on a day designated as Memorial Day that we not only remember those who have served but also the special needs of returning heroes and their families in a challenging employment environment.
Every civilized country has given deference to those who picked up arms to defend their home soil. You may debate whether the word “civilized” belongs in the same sentence as “war,” but out of love of country and to protect their values and families, organized military organizations have fought for what they believed in for centuries. To love something greater than one’s own life defines uninhibited, unabashed and unconditional love. We say these words or something like it, especially on commemorative holidays, while at the same time allowing our feelings about killing and our passions for peace to leave small chinks in the armor of our thinking. We laugh when Hollywood portrays the soldier as a “meatball” stumbling and bumbling through their career. We get angry when we see politicized dramatizations of the horrors of warfare and never question if it is a made-up event or real. Regardless of our motivation, we all give at least lip service to hiring veterans in the workforce.
I will be quick to point out that this is not charity. This is not because there is some legislated diversity program that we do because it is the right thing to do. We should hire the veteran because it is the smartthing to do. Perhaps some of the holdover from 20-30 years ago still creates doubt in our minds. After Vietnam, less than 1% of the enlisted personnel returning home had a college degree. Today, about one-third have a college degree and many have a masters or doctorate. They have proven their ability to learn skills and concepts under duress and have clearly identifiable skills that are transferable to industry. The military is the most drug-free workforce in the United States and have a higher rate of retention post-hire than the general employee population. These generalizations are well documented, but there are a few specific factors that make the candidacy of former military members an outstanding choice:
Security– It has been estimated that as many as 80%-90% of employees with security clearances in the defense industry obtained their clearances in the military. Not only have they been vetted properly through the best intelligence channels, there is also something about the professional ethics of the returning military that is the epitome of trust.
Teamwork– There are few organizations where the ultimate trust in teammates could mean life and death. If there is any downside it could be that there is too much of a good thing…they are loyal to a fault.
Respect for Authority– The military chain of command is in place to insure continuity in the event something happens to a leader who must be replaced. There are seldom any incidents of military personnel going rogue and usurping standard procedures or going around management.
Learning curve– Military personnel receive the strongest and most regimented training to insure successful completion of their mission. They crave knowledge. They are also quick to pick up new concepts and are used to using initiative and “field fixes” to overcome obstacles and solve problems.
Technical Ability– Nearly all active duty military in the United States use computers at their place of duty and about half have served in jobs requiring some sort of data management. Approximately 60% of enlisted personnel can program in at least one computer language.
Personal Maturity– There is an old saying that when you send a boy off to war he comes home a man. Self sufficiency, discipline and confidence is not just a desired trait, it is often the key to survival.
Performance Under Pressure– Trained to believe that anything is possible, the former military employee will not be a stranger to tight deadlines with important deliverables.
Leadership– Saving the best characteristic for last, there is no question that military members quickly assimilate into a strange environment and assume managerial roles with ease. Deeper than simply leading, there is an ingrained respect for other leaders, making the employee with military experience a good follower as well.
Considering these characteristics of our military personnel, we cannot grant them superhuman status simply because of their service. The military forces are a mirror of society and there will be a wide range of personality traits that may exceed or fall short of the mark. On the whole, it can be said with certainty that military experience is good for business.
In the United States we are seeing a situation where those we have asked to defend our freedom are returning to a faltering economy and high unemployment. These people are too important to be brushed aside. They should not be given jobs because they are veterans, however they should be given equal opportunity to earn employment by proving that they can do the job. They may not have of all the detailed common knowledge in the exotic technology that has taken another step forward in their absence, so the offsetting personal and leadership characteristics need to be given full consideration. In reality, they are no less qualified overall than someone without military experience who may have slightly more experience, but will have a much steeper assimilation curve.
What can we do to help them? First we have to acknowledge that they exist and need our help. As with other diversity programs, we do not simply wait for the returning military to apply for employment we go after them with a passion. Tax breaks and good will notwithstanding, the contribution they will make to the bottom line will be worth the effort.
Here are some but not all of the resources for exploring this candidate pool: