In the midst of today’s talent shortage and the need to find people who will engage, commit and deliver tremendous value to your organization, veterans may be among your best choices to hire.
Challenges are steep for organizations today: Fully 81% of hiring professionals are having trouble filling jobs, according to a poll from Employ Inc., and only 23% of people worldwide and 32% in the U.S. are engaged, according to data from Gallup. In addition, pressures to demonstrate hiring commitments to diversity, equity and inclusion continue.
Enter veterans, who bring tremendous skills, capabilities and dedication—and who are terrific hires for organizations which value DEI in the hiring process.
A Significant Pool of Talent
There are about 18 million veterans in the U.S. today, representing about 6% of the adult population, according to the Pew Research Center. A veteran is someone from any branch of the armed forces who has previously served as active duty or reserve—and who has been honorably discharged.
There are about 200,000 military personnel who transition to civilian life and work each year, according to the Department of Defense. And they come from any variety of the estimated 7,000 jobs across 100 departments in the armed services. Along with the numbers of veteran candidates, they bring terrific and transferable talents to the workplace.
Of course, every veteran is different, and individuals have their own unique personalities, strengths and qualifications—but the armed services tend to teach, reinforce, recognize and reward key skills. As a result of this culture and formal training, veterans are likely to have talents which are especially valuable to organizations.
1 – Hire for Leadership, Teamwork and Learning
Many of the capabilities service members learn in the military are intertwined, but among the most significant are leadership, teamwork and an inclination toward learning.
Captain Tim Merkle from the U.S. Marines says it well, “My experience as a Marine Corps officer provided an accelerated course in leadership, humility, failure, and adaptability. As an officer, I was thrust into leading large teams immediately, where my subordinates were the experts, forcing me to be a humble and consummate learner.”
And U.S. Army First Lieutenant Charles Ovens says, “My biggest lessons learned in the Army will always be leadership and flexibility. The Army puts faith in young individuals to lead, establishing an early foundation of decisiveness and grit.”
Organizations need employees who can lead and manage while they are learning and persevering themselves. In fact, based on data from more than a million ads for jobs, management was the primary skill companies were seeking—based on 36% of ads. In addition, leadership and confidence were ranked as two of the most important in the top employer priorities, according to global job board Adzuna,
Veterans bring these skills in abundance—many of whom started leading when they were in their late teens and early twenties—and who led through extraordinarily difficult circumstances. The ability to manage, guide, direct and decide are part of the experience—as well as the ability to inspire others, persuade them and bring them along even in the heat of significant challenge.
And even for veterans who haven’t been in formal leadership roles, the discipline, rigor and tenaciousness which are part of a military experience give them the gravitas and gift of influencing others around them—no matter their role.
2 – Hire for Stress Tolerance
Work and life are especially stressful today with people reporting they feel more anxious than any time previously, and employers saying that one of the primary skills they seek in candidates is a high tolerance for challenge.
This is another unique skill veterans bring to the workforce. Captain Marshall Fordon is a jet fighter pilot with the U.S. Marine Corps and he has learned how to handle tough challenges, “Being a Marine has helped me develop a great number of skills, including the ability to be objective and also to manage stress and execute a task while under pressure. I have learned to compartmentalize stressors and focus on the task to accomplish the mission.”
Keeping the mission in mind, having a singular focus and the ability to filter out noise, bias and emotional reaction are critical to assessing problems, remaining cool under pressure, solving issues and working through difficulty—all essential in organizations today.
3 – Hire for Adaptability
Things are moving fast and it’s a VUCA world characterized by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. In this context, the ability to adapt, be flexible, solve problems and be resilient are primary skills necessary for individuals. And when employees deliver these capabilities, they tend to increase organizational capability in these areas as well—helping organizations to adjust, pivot and respond to markets, competition and customer needs.
Veterans demonstrate this set of skills as well. First Lieutenant Ovens says, “While many believe the army is a rigid organization, it may be the most flexible on the earth. Teaching leaders to adapt and think off the cuff has become second nature for us.”
Captain Merkle agrees, “Because no plan survives first contact with the enemy, I learned how to fail, reframe rapidly, adapt to dynamic information, and persevere as a leader and teammate.”
Veterans learn how to prepare and proceed—and be proactive—but then also to reassess, regroup and reset the plan—to maximize the likelihood of success—and these are terrifically transferable skills for fast-paced organizational life and challenges.
4 – Hire for Learning
Another characteristic of a shifting landscape, is the need for constant training and reskilling. And the military demands formal, systematic and ongoing learning—translating into personnel who are ready, open and accustomed to regular skill development.
Whether it’s recruit training, basic combat training or an advanced leader course, the armed forces are taking a formal approach to imparting capabilities like handling stress, dependability, persistence, conscientiousness, attention to detail, teamwork, management, communication skills, interpersonal skills, decision making, critical thinking and project planning.
These translate into applicable skills as well as an overall openness to growth and development—that are advantages for any employee or team.
5 – Hire for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
A robust DEI hiring strategy includes veterans, but in addition, veterans have perspectives which can make a meaningful contribution to a culture of inclusivity, belonging and acceptance.
Armed services members say they pay close attention to global issues, knowing world events can result in their deployment. And when they’re deployed, they benefit from exposure to diverse people and cultures.
In addition, the military creates the conditions for service members to work with an array of people from diverse backgrounds and experiences.
U.S. Navy Commander R. Jason Delinsky shares, “The military is truly a cross-section of our society. While knowledge and skills can be learned, there is no substitute for those who are self-motivated and demonstrate a can-do attitude. With these attributes, virtually any task or mission can be accomplished.”
Working with so many different people for common goals and shared purposes enhances social skills and the ability to work with all kinds of people.
How to Attract and Access Veterans
So you’re wise to hire veterans for all they’ll offer your organization.
When you’re setting yourself apart to attract veterans, be sure to brand yourself effectively and set up effective systems. U.S. Air Force veteran and HR consultant Greg Modd distinguishes between a just a “veteran-friendly” organization and one which is “veteran-ready.” A veteran-ready company establishes programs and processes which are systematic and intentional in both hiring and transition approaches supporting vets.
Explore designations such as an company MVAA Bronze, Silver or Gold distinction for hiring veterans and reach out to veterans via organizations like the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), the Department of Labor Veterans’ Employment and Training Services (VETS) or the Military Spouse Employment Partnership.
You can also seek access to veterans through channels such as the SHRM (the Society for Human Resource Management) database of veterans (HireVets) and job boards like Monster and Indeed. Some states also offer banks of veterans looking for work. The Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency (MVAA) is an example.
Also consider working with college and university career centers which offer programs for returning service members or by advertising the military-focused publications (the Military Times is one example).
And be sure you benefit from the available incentives for hiring veterans such as SEI (Special Employer Incentives), tax incentives or programs such as SkillBridge which offer military-paid internships for those making the transition to civilian employment.
So Many Skills
In addition to skills like leadership, teamwork, learning, stress tolerance, flexibility and inclusivity, you can hire for everything from motivation, hard work and commitment—to detail orientation, technical skills, rigor and a penchant for hard work. Each vet will have their own best mix of capabilities which are both impactful for organizations and transferable from a military to a civilian career.
You may choose to hire veterans because they’ll be good for your business, your DEI strategy or your need for great talent—but also because you appreciate and value veterans for the tremendous talents they bring and the service they’ve provided—and will continue to contribute.
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