Over the years, I have had the pleasure of working with numerous veterans of our armed forces. There are many experiences which I believe are common to the military that transfer over to civilian employment. I have not served in the military, but I believe my experience with former military colleagues and screening many job applicants over the past 20 years allows me to offer an opinion.
Frequently, employers look for experience in a certain industries or environments: Experience in a software development environment, or a service provider environment, a manufacturing environment, a sales environment, a financial services environment, or an academic environment, etc. etc.
So, what does a former soldier have to offer a civilian firm? [ Given that I’ve spent a majority of my years with IT firms, my explanation will be IT slanted ]
#3 Veterans have experience dealing with difficult people. Soldiers are trained to maintain composure in the face of drill sergeants and other superiors. That training is supposed to translate into the field, where the enemies are trying to instigate conflict. Do you think they are going to lose composure when an angry customer is yelling? Do you think that they are going to escalate conflict in the workplace?
I’ve seen two incidents where a manager was yelling at an employee and a response would have been justified. But, in both cases, one with a former Army private and another with an Army Officer who was in the reserves, neither spoke a strong word which would have escalated the situation.
#2 Veterans show a loyalty to the team. In a sense, this is related to the former. The teammates make up the unit. As the saying goes, “there is no ‘I’ in team”. So, team success is important. In the military, if the guy who has your back isn’t there, your future won’t be so bright. Employers want employees to care about the company’s success. Directors and VPs want to see teams that are successful, not just individuals. Heroes are good, but companies want to know that they can execute without them. In addition, managers are concerned about team chemistry. Guys who aren’t interested in team success tend to work against team chemistry.
I worked with a manager who had previously come from the Air Force (if memory serves that was the branch). He was loyal to the staff he inherited. He backed them up. He assumed responsibility for the team’s performance and was intent on getting the team to function together.
#1 Veterans are resilient to difficult times. In the workplace, change is frequent. In business, if you don’t change, you will be out of business: refine the organization, race to market, respond to competitors, personnel changes, new regulations, buyouts, spinoffs, etc. etc. Some of the changes or even rumors of changes can be overwhelming to staff. In business, projects can be started, stopped and then restarted – or direction switched and switched back. Military staff are trained to prepare for change. Just as complete information may not be available to staff, military staffers are used to having incomplete info and knowing that those above may have more information to make decisions, as opposed to what is public. In addition, conditions that soldiers are placed under are more stressful and more life impacting than what happens in the typical civilian job.
I worked with a former marine who while under a great deal of pressure to deliver. The project was important and it was behind on the timelines and had a fair amount of attention. He said something along the lines of: “Hey, compared to rolling in a tank through Fallujah (Iraq) and being shot at – this is pretty easy.”
The net result is that veterans bring commitment without anxiety. That is a value to any organization.