Over the last few weeks I have been working on a series of posts with the intention of communicating many of the advantages that military employment will add to company culture for those employers who take the leap of faith and put an honest effort into veteran employment. I am going to speak as a Marine and a former hiring manager. I was once a Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps with two Iraq tours and have worked in the retail, real estate, the tech industry start-up and education sectors. In that time, I’ve hired more than enough people to know that it’s one of the hardest decisions you have to regularly make. The choices of who you bring into an organization will either make or break you far quicker than anything you as the individual are capable of. I also know that almost all the decisions you make as a hiring manager happen as the sum result of the generalizations and stereotypes you have attached to the bullet points on their résumé. Don’t feel bad. It’s important to not follow that instinct that all individuals are fundamentally good and fundamentally the same. That’s how you get robbed and your employees drive your company into the ground.
The facts are, you rely on those generalizations to give you the best guess of who is going to add value to your company’s culture and who isn’t going to burn the place to the ground. That said, what happens when you see military experience show up in your inbox? What generalizations do you hold? Do you really not know what it is you’re looking at? Would you like to know more? The problem with many hiring managers is that they have no idea what it means when they see a veteran’s resume. What qualities should you expect? What flaws? What do they add? How are they different from someone else? I wrote this piece to help communicate what to expect. Hopefully after reading you will be able to make an informed decision. You’ll be able to know better if this applicant is not only a good worker for you, but also someone who can grow and drive your company in the future, someone who can grow with you, and maybe even someone who can help you take your operations to the next level.
Leadership is Ingrained in Vets
What many people don’t know is that the United States Marine has an average age of only 19. What? Yes, that Marine is incredibly young, but it still needs to be led. Who do you think is doing this? 19 year olds. By the time most people are twenty in the Marines (this goes for the other services, as well) they are already an NCO. This stands for Non-Commissioned-Officer. Don’t let the “Non” throw you off. What an NCO means is, “The guy in charge who will make my life Hell if I screw up,” or just as often, “the guy whose job it is to make sure I stay alive.” By the age of 20 some kids have already become technical experts in a professional field, are teachers to younger service-members and have led small teams in everything from shop operations to combat deployments.
By the time I was 22 I was a Sergeant in charge of a team of 13 other Marines. We were all occupying very technical jobs in the computer networking field and responsible for overseeing the maintenance and distribution of over $3 million dollars of Marine Corps property. You probably might think that that was a stupid investment on someone so young, but we pulled it off, with no fanfare I might add, and we did things like that all the time. It wasn’t until I received a degree in Business Management at 25, that the civilian world could trust me again with doing the same thing. I suppose, on the outside, people can’t be trusted with that kind of responsibility. Every day, though, vets do. The fact is that I could not have done this alone. I had those thirteen Marines who did the work and it was my job to coordinate. I had a very solid framework for leadership that include such gems as the Five Paragraph Order, Six Troop Leading steps, and the Thirteen Leadership Traits. These have become pivotal to my personal growth as a manager, teacher, and how I lead others. The military philosophies on the science of leading aren’t something that leave you. The military trains Service Members to lead by example. Skills like motivation and delegation are actually given time to be trained and implemented in the most hostile environments imaginable.
The military doesn’t just educate their members on the practical ways to manage behavior, such as the discipline and communication methods. Leadership is truly studied on the academic and theoretical level. More so than in other organization, this theoretical and practical leadership are put in practice as a matter of survival.
You want another note on leadership? In the military, no one can be fired, not at the bottom tiers at least. That means that you have to get the job done with the idiots God gave you. You are out there for seven to fourteen months with no replacements and just the same team along with all their problems. You have to train them, discipline them, correct them, counsel them and shape them, because you have no other choices. You didn’t even get to hire them. They were just assigned to you, more or less, at random. That is another reason why vets have such strong leadership skills. Could you honestly say that you could run a company the way the Marines do, with their success record, if you couldn’t even pick who gets hired and can’t even get rid of the ones who suck? You probably couldn’t, but the military does. Choosing team members and leaders who have proven they are able to do this means that you are choosing team members who are adaptable and know how to lead others.
Vets Understand Responsibility
In most veterans you will see a strong vein of personal integrity. It isn’t that they are better people than anyone else, far to the point. Many are socially unacceptable misfits by most people’s terms. It is that integrity is driven to such a degree that it is presented as a matter of life or death. Ethics and standards of behavior are codified, their policed, and a part of life to the point that it is a standard which will follow an individual. In the civilian world, that doesn’t go away. It creates employees with a proven track record of trustworthiness that are often assets to the organizations they join after they leaving military service.
I don’t mean to imply that civilians have no integrity. To contrary, there are many who are the most reliable people I have ever met, but in my experience, it can be hit or miss. In one job I had, by the time I had worked there for no more than a month nearly the entire staff had called out sick at least once, people wouldn’t show up for work, complained incessantly, and generally, would do anything to avoid work. It wasn’t legitimate sickness. It was dishonesty and an inability to be relied upon. The worst part… corporate wouldn’t even let me fire them! I know that I said that the Marines and the military in general can’t be fired and that makes vets good leaders, but firing people is a tool and needs to be used when you have it. Let’s face it, because of lawyers and HR reps afraid of wrongful termination lawsuits, people can get away with murder without being let go far too often. This blows the minds of some vets.
In the military there are no sick days. I am not exaggerating. You absolutely must come to work and then must go to Sick Call before they will ever acknowledge that there might be something wrong with you. And if it is a PT day you will run three miles before you get to go.
When on deployment we also work every day. Every single day. There are no holidays, no weekends, no birthdays. It is the same thing every day. If you show up late, even by five minutes, or so, you will be running for miles or end up digging a massive fighting hole and 300 sandbags in an effort to make the base more secure. (It’s not really about making the base more secure.) So you learn how not to get punished. In the civilian world they don’t reward this behavior, but they also don’t punish the latter.
“Why should I reward them for doing their jobs?” some might say.
“Because you won’t punish them for not doing it.” I’d reply.
People like us show up early, stay late and if you ask them to do something they work hard to see that it is done. In the worst case scenario, they will be responsible enough to tell you when they need help. There is a point I made in the last section that I would like to take the opportunity to repeat for emphasis.
By the time I was 22 I was a Sergeant in charge of a team of 13 other Marines. We were all occupying very technical jobs in the computer networking field and responsible for overseeing the maintenance and distribution of over $3 million dollars of Marine Corps property.
Most organizations wouldn’t consider this type of thing a wise decision, but in the military it is common for very young people to be given a great deal of responsibility, relative to civilian counterparts. You wonder how. This might help. Image you give an 18-year-old a rifle and tell him that it is only thing that will protect his life for next seven months. Follow this up with a few months of proof and little else but living with the constant reminder of this fact and I promise you that rifle will not be lost, broken, damaged and will come back to you polished and good as new. I promise. Military people get responsibility because when they were very young, there were serious consequences to the decisions they made. Civilians don’t go through this kind of trial by fire and training and many of them don’t make good decisions because of it. The military has given young men and women real life and death responsibility and choices before a regular civilian would have graduated college.
Intuition is a skill. It can be learned. The military teaches it.
What many people think is that leaders are born. Not in the military. Simply put, many times in the military people are presented with situations where they must make life and death decisions in the blink of an eye. How do you do that given that there are no pie charts to help you make the decision, no data scientists to weigh all the variables and no spreadsheets, journals or time to decide? Intuition. How exactly do you trust that someone will make the right decision when you plan to throw them into that kind of situation? Faith in a system of training which focuses on immediate decision making in response to only the information available at the time, intuition. The Marines and the military train intuition into their culture. You might not even know what intuition really is. Well, here goes.
Intuition is the ability to take massive amounts of information and quickly come to a decision from all possible options quickly and correctly. It is the precise execution of understanding gained through experience and study. You don’t do it with charts and graphs, you do it by absorbing all the knowledge available to you ahead of time and making it so readily available that the employee can access it at any given moment they wish. This sounds a lot like memory, but there is more than just recalling information. This means using that mental database to its fullest capacity. They are also able to sort through it and glean the right information without all the excessive over analysis that comes with having an abundance of information and options, often labeled “analysis paralysis” that can accompany a lot corporate level thinkers. This is one of the hardest things in the world to do and most people think you are either born with the ability you aren’t. This is a false assumption given to many by a society that worships heroes who magically just know what to do. Intuition, in truth, is a trainable skill and the vets have it already.
What they don’t have? They may not have the specific job essential abilities and skills you need. Provide them the training and let it add to their knowledge base. After that, let them use what they know, namely the ability to think, a skill often missing from many fresh college grads. You just have to provide the training and watch them succeed in implementing it.
Military people will tell you when something is wrong, even when you don’t like it, often.
I remember, more than just about anything in the military, life is punctuated with a steady stream of inspections. Almost impossibly high standards are demanded in everything from uniforms to gear. Even after getting out, the habit of a strong sense of standards runs deep. Vets have the wont of maintaining a certain level of acceptability in operations, safety, and professionalism in others. This often is directed downwards, but they also develop built in mechanisms for directing problems that are discovered upwards as well. Many that I know, also have a real problem not accepting that same level excellence in others. If a failure is present, expect the vet to let you know.
You need to understand that the military are people who have an incredible amount of responsibility, not only for “company property”, but for lives. Many seem to think that you give them an order, they say, “Sir, yes, sir!” and run off to their doom like mindless drones. It actually doesn’t work that way, and I’m sorry if that is what you want from a veteran employee. Remember, they’ve spent years earning respect and a place of distinction as field experts so expecting them to just go to a point of utter subservience to you is both demeaning and ridiculous. It also throws away one of their most valuable assets, their independence and strength of character to be able to tell those they work with when something is wrong without damaging those relationships. This really does go back to the habit of self preservation, in that you don’t just do what that young and inexperienced officer says when your experience tells you, it’s going to get you killed. National security and all, but you are going to at least offer your opinion before leaping off the cliff like a flock of lemmings.
That, however, is what I see in a lot of corporate scenarios I have seen and been a part of… Lemmings. Yes Men. If you all you’re looking for is a government sponsored yesman, you should keep looking. Most veterans won’t accept a place where their input isn’t valued and they shouldn’t. They have valuable knowledge, training and skills. That said, they aren’t going to disrespect you just to let their opinion be known. A military person knows how to use tact, a word I am learning more and more, doesn’t seem to appear in lexicon of most industry professionals. They will try to communicates to you that you may not be making a good choice. That much needs to be expected, so fragile egos need not apply. They are also not so afraid of you as to speak their mind when they have a good idea or think that one of yours could use a second look. They already have self-confidence gained through life experience. This type of mentality is important, but is often squashed by egotistical bosses.
Vets can get the job done in an environment where they are trained to succeed in.
When you make the choice to hire a veteran, you can know that when you give them a task they will do it, provided they have the means and support to get the job done. If it is safe, sound, and smart, vets will go at the task without the “incentive programs”, “rewards”, “blue jeans days” and all the other forms of extrinsic motivation that get in the way of doing business with a bunch of self-centered egotists. Veterans know what it means to have something that needs to be done. Vets have gained a sense of urgency and have seen the world through a big picture type mentality. If you ask them to do something they aren’t going to complain because it is too tough, too hard or infringes on their break time. When you need someone who is willing to work the long hours, do the hard tasks and the seemingly impossible, remember that in the back of their heads is, “Well at least I’m not getting shot at.” They have a strong respect for procedures and accountability. Service members know how policies and procedures enable an organization to be successful and they easily understand their place within an organizational framework. Vets get the obligation that comes with being responsible for the actions of subordinates and they understand how to properly alleviate issues through the proper supervisory channels.
Considering that, you may wonder why veterans you have worked with in the past, didn’t shape up like what was expected. A good thing to consider is that most hiring managers hire veterans with the wrong idea in mind. Usually, they are hiring lower to mid-level managers of whatever it is they are doing because that is the experience level that most veterans have. The problem is that these individuals often lack much of the tacit knowledge others gain through working their way up through the civilian side of the latter. You might be surprised at some of the things you would think are obvious that a veteran just won’t think of at first. It’s important to remember that most of their knowledge comes from the military, not civilian side of any industry, which has its own culture, regulations, implications, and priorities. That said, they solve problems in a completely different manner. They will do things completely differently than you have seen in your career. Often, this will be good because of the diversity it brings. Without an understanding of what is good in a civilian industry model, however, their techniques may be harmful. This is why, in the beginning, you should watch your veteran employees more to gear them for the new industry and be patient with these new mid-level employees making mistakes you wouldn’t otherwise expect from more junior employees who have worked the civilian side for a while.
That said, the important element of this combination is you giving them the instructions. If you don’t provide the support they need to do the work, they will fail. If you don’t make wise decisions and then ask them to do stupid things, they will fail. If you don’t make it possible for them do their job right, they will fail. Given a good vet and good task, however, they will never fail you. That’s why it is so important for managers to know that many military people need a great deal of structure in the beginning to survive in many organizations. They need to be trained well and given a solid framework with which to perform. Many hiring managers make the mistake of believing they will simply be able to hire a veteran and then that veteran will be a magic wand which can “get things done” absent any real training or supervision from the manager. This may happen, but just as likely that veteran employee might go off and drive your company or division into some random direction because you didn’t adequately direct their energy with training or guidance. Their drive is a useful fuel for the engine of progress in any strong company, but could just as easily have them fixing thousands of problems that either aren’t problems or don’t need to be fixed right now. They might even cause new issues because the military teaches and encourages movement and drive. If you don’t show them where they need to focus and what they need to do, then you have created a thermite mixture; a high energy burn that causes a big flash but usually breaks more than it builds.
When given a proper framework and adequate training, your veteran employees can amaze you at how hard they can work and what they can get done. Once that framework is established, many veterans are extremely independent. The thing that so many people seem to think about vets is that they want to have the strict and regimented hierarchy. Think about it, there is a reason they left the military. Most, in my experience, are confident in their abilities and just want to be left alone or to get busy with their team without strong supervision. From that point have flexibility to work strongly in teams or work independently. Military training teaches service members to work as a team by instilling a sense of a responsibility to one’s colleagues. In addition, the size and scope of military operations necessitates that service members understand how groups of all sizes relate to each other and support the overarching objective. While military duties stress teamwork and group productivity, they also build individuals who are able to perform independently at a very high level. As I mentioned before, military vets can be extremely independent. There have been numerous reports that show that military vets are more likely to start their own businesses than other demographic groups. They have natural drives to solve complex problems. They think tactically and strategically about problems. If you have given them the training and a framework to work within your organization they will be able to achieve your goals in ways you hadn’t considered before. They are resourceful and know how to use what assets they are given rather than look outside for support. This is what makes them entrepreneurial by nature and can help grow your companies from the inside rather than just be another task follower.
The Government Pays Them to get Educated, so You Don’t Have to.
Military vets come equipped with knowledge that isn’t comparable to most others. The United States military boasts some of the most educated war fighters in the world, not to mention in the history of warfare. All US service members must have, at the time of their enlistment, a high school diploma or the general equivalency diploma. To be more clear, more than 99% of those enlisted have a high school education comparable to about 60% that you will find in the general population. Also compared to the population of the United States more service members have also attended some college compared to their typical 18 to 24-year-old counterparts. They have all also passed a standardized test on to test for skills in English proficiency, mathematics, science and government. This test also serves as a placement exam for military jobs. Curious about the rigorous qualifications required to be good enough to join the United States Military? United States Military Enlistment Standards. Good luck.
To top this, most MOS schools or Military Occupational Specialty schools boast world-class educational training. First, you have to be good enough to get into the school you want, which can have very high scores required to get in. No, we don’t have the greatest recreational facilities and the dorms suck. It isn’t the Ivy League, but the education level is beyond par. While stationed in 29 Palms California, a hole in the middle of the California desert, I received two years worth of the most rigorous training in Computer Science, Data Network Administration and Information Systems maintenance. I say two-year except that I only had six months to do it. The training is taken very seriously. In 29 Palms I was 19-year-old PFC working on workstations and equipment with a cost of over half a million dollars, a task, by the way, I would be doing in the real world very soon anyway.
In your typical civilians education, students are allowed to pass with virtually any grade so long as they beg enough. In the military, every test is a fail if scored under an 80%, and if you fail you can be booted from the program. This is because, in the civilian education world, a school which doesn’t pass enough student’s isn’t viewed as exclusive, it is viewed as too hard. Students then refuse to attend, dropping tuition payments and the courses must be reevaluated to encourage more revenue. In the military, standards aren’t questioned. The service member fails and gets to demoted to a job set he can handle.
Add to this, military veterans are virtually the only class of citizens which earns a full ride scholarship to most any higher education they wish. While this is overlooked today, with a society where fresh college graduates are severely overpopulated and under educated, in the future labor will be a much more scarce commodity. Add to this, you have a person who already comes equipped with all the other training they’ve already endured. Lastly, if you have in your employ a trusted veteran who has not yet used his GI Bill, you have an amazing asset. You, as the employer, can encourage that employee to get their education and work for you during that time. Given a few years, you will have a marvelous manager with years experience and ready to take the reigns you’ve prepared for them. The best part of this arrangement is that you don’t have to pay for this. Many companies offer this as an incentive to join and in the future it will become a more common benefit. You, however, get to save that carrot for a Master’s degree.
Many companies hire a large portion of their staff where diversity is the prime differentiator. The theory is that diversity gives a company a large base of ideas with which to draw from for problem solving. This is thought of, normally, as racial or ethnic diversity, but can be applied to different backgrounds and even sub-cultures as well. This form of diversity is important, especially when the discussion of civil rights is a matter at hand. That said, in and of itself, ethnicity should not be considered a quality companies should hire for if the goal is to hire for diversity. What types of diversity are necessary for company success and evolution are those which make an individual useful while being very different from everyone else in the organization. Race and ethnicity, all else equal, rarely does this.
There are not ethnicities that provide true, useful diversities any culture, but there are cultures that add unique and predictable experiences that can help companies prosper. These cultures have their quirks, eccentricities, values, specialties, and perspectives which can guide teams in new directions and solve unique problems. For that reason, the real question isn’t if you are finding a HR perfect, color coordinated team page, but if you have a team with real depth based on a broad range of experiences. The better question might be for hiring managers, “Which cultures out there might add value, because they just care a lot about getting things done?” The point of diversity is not just to get different people working together, but also to get many different experience sets working together.
Think of it this way. If you build your diversity around different countries of origin, but everyone in the company has an almost identical skillsets, which were gained through almost identical means, how have you actually diversified your experience base? Say you are fortunate enough to have the ability to hire a team of Harvard graduates. Harvard is arguably the best university in the world in most many important fields. It is extremely exclusive and extremely competitive. For that reason, one would assume that success would come from a group such as this. Likely, it will, but the question is, will be it the greatest success? Consider adding in a few people from Stanford. Now you have two cultures of success with with two very different education systems. Different solutions are going to come from these two groups, one all of Harvard and one of a mixed class. Now consider how very different would the solutions formed from a group mixed in with a few graduates of the United States Naval Academy, or even one of self made entrepreneurial millionaires? How vastly different would the solutions to various problems be if such an amalgamation were to exist? The truth of the matter is that sometimes the Harvard group will sometimes create the best solution. Still, many other times, they will miss many things were would have been extremely obvious to everyone else, in spite of their individual and collective brilliance. For that reason, most of the time the greatest solution will come from the highly diversified group. They still have access to all their personal thought processes and their successful cultural quirk, but also now have access to another, the solutions that only become visible when multiple viewpoints are combined. This is a strategic asset and which can’t be replicated easily which means that the culture you build will differentiate you from other firms like you.
Few people can add as much constructive diversity as a military veteran. Few cultures have been engineered quite like those that military veterans have had memberships within. There are even fewer cultures that focus entirely on mission achievement, cooperation, and personal development. The fact is there is no culture in the world that shapes people in the way the military does. It changes people into something that civilians don’t really understand. What is more important is that it gives them options, mentalities, philosophies and a framework that sees opportunities and solves problems that will pass up most civilians. Even more important is that the thoughts going through their minds are centered around finding the problem and fixing it in the fastest and most efficient ways possible.
So to achieve useful diversity, it isn’t to focus on just bringing in different people, but people who have had experience successful cultures, cultures that somehow add value and are different than the culture already present an organization. That isn’t to say that the military is the only good and achieving culture in the world. It is just another one. What you want, to be clear, is an environment where there is a constant collision of successful problem solving systems in which only unique and inventive ideas can be generated. I know that this last section is more a concept of general business theory and not so centric on the military’s contribution to hiring a veteran. Well, I did graduated Cum Laude from business school and now run my own publishing firm, so I hope you take the advice regardless.
Having said this, when you start to try to diversify you team for success, you’re going to need a team which is capable of working with diversity. It isn’t built in. I will ask you a series of questions that might make it more clear why I would suggest a few military members be incorporated into such a team. What type of people have experience with extremely diverse teams? What type of group regularly asks its members to uproot and join new units and new teams? What is a group made of people from many different ethnic groups, income brackets, religious backgrounds and still manages to achieve world class results? What type of group regularly takes part in international activities with different cultures in which the fate of the mission revolves around team work? What type of group gives its members a huge amount of international travel and experience living abroad? It’s obvious the point I am making here. The military systematically builds individuals with experience that, later on as an unintended benefit, are built to join new groups of highly diverse individuals. More than that, the military is a culture which focuses on achievement, so by adding their processes to your own, you incorporate individuals who are already highly achieved in the arts of teamwork.
Adaptability and Global Thinkers
I remember when I was a young Marine I thought my only job would be to work on computers. I signed on to be a 0656, Tactical Data Network Specialist, which meant I did the same job of an IT support or network administrator, only I did it in a godforsaken desert or jungle environment with absolutely zero internal or external logistical support and with the possibility that my entire relay could be blown up on any given day. Most people don’t even realize the Marines have a computer nerd job specialty, but we do. It’s actually quite sophisticated and since my day has evolved to become part of the US’ strategy for offensive and defensive cyber operations. By the time I was 19, I was able to do what most people spend years in technical school attempting to be qualified for. It wasn’t my only job, though. After my first Iraq tour, the unit had to immediately begin getting ready for the next one. That meant training and most importantly, marksmanship training. One of the slots for coaches fell on my shop and being that all the other computer nerds were horrible shots, I was the only natural choice. So I tacked on an additional occupational specialty. Eventually I would also have under my belt proficiency with a number of weapons systems, not to mention the ability also be communicating in Arabic. All this to say, for all the jokes one has heard about the oxymoron of “military intelligence”, the military, and not just myself, are forced to be adaptable to compensate for overwhelming shortcomings in the reality of resources.
Consider the veteran’s history of technological understanding and consider what it means about their ability to mold themselves to changing technological environments, such as your company may face. Today’s military uses the cutting edge technology to maintain our dominance over the enemy in the battlefield. From communications technology to the security of computer networks and hardware, Service Members must stay aware of emerging technologies in the public and private sector. This means that the individual service member is always training and adapting their methodology to stay ahead and insure the greatest level of technological superiority of any fighting force. Add in to this the fact that their main job may not be their only job. The Squadron’s First Sergeant may also be the Communications Chief. The training NCO may also be a heavy equipment operator. The A-gunner may also be the one trained in triage medicine. They aren’t just adaptable because it looks good on a resume; in the military it is a necessity.
Besides needing to adapt to changing technology, they also must adapt to changing teams. Diversity and strong interpersonal skills are another given. That doesn’t necessarily mean that a Service member is a pleasant person to be around, but they have interpersonal skills that allow them to work with new and constantly evolving teams. They have learned to work side by side with individuals regardless of race, gender, religion, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds, economic status, and geographic origins as well as those of different mental, physical and attitudinal capabilities. Consider also, that none of us have every had the privilege of choosing who we work for, who we work with, or even who gets assigned to us. Imagine how successful your teams would be if you couldn’t even control who you hired. Hired? It’s almost impossible to get someone fired from the military, so imagine now your company without these to abilities. Now consider what kind of leadership makes it possible. Many Service members may also have also been deployed or stationed in numerous foreign countries that give them a greater appreciation for the diverse nature of our globalized economy. Many of those, like myself, had to also deal directly those in the foreign nations we worked. You really can’t find that sort of malleability in many places.
The hands on experience with technology and experiences with extreme diversity combine to give military vets one additional advantage that comes with the collision of these two experiences: A Global Mindset. Few people are knowledgeable of more than one realm of what makes the world tick. Fewer still, have first hand experience with these divergent metrics. Those who do have a unique grasp of geopolitics to the point that they can much more accurately see where the roads lead in their given focus, or at least have developed an eye for it. They look forward much more than those who look at the now. They have practice seeing how technology and culture interact because they have lived it. They care about what is going on in the world because they have been part of writing the history books. I’m not saying that your average Marine could predict how a new innovation in heat exchangers might fundamentally alter the social fabric of South East Asia. What I am saying is that if your business needs someone who is capable of learning a great deal about changing technologies or working internationally, or someone who has spent time thinking about the future of these realms, a military veteran might be a good choice for you to start your search.
Esprit de Corps; a culture built for mission accomplishment.
There is a French term that most Americans have never heard of. It’s called Esprit de Corps. Literally translated, it means, “the spirit of the group”. What it means is that there is a feeling in the culture of any collection of individuals that is affected by each one and that each is responsible for maintaining. Everyone in the organization comes into it each knowing the high expectations, history, heroes, and legends of the group. Each wishes to uphold the group’s traditions and each wishes not damage the reputation or morale of such an organization. They are motivated by one another and try harder not to let other members of the group down. When a culture such as this exists it’s expected average level of performance is above the normal for others like it. The normal is inferior and, when everyone is on board, you have an outstanding organization. You have a place where others will sacrifice their own time and resources to raise others. Esprit de Corps is the force that drives culture.
The Marines have a saying. The Marine Corps is a perfect organization made up of imperfect people. That is the level of respect each individual Marine has for their organization and when you have that level of fanaticism, you start to see each of them drive each other that much harder. If you’re that hiring manager, probably work for an imperfect organization and you surely know some imperfect people that work their. Vets aren’t perfect, by any means. I’m not saying they are, but they have experienced powerful cultures. Culture is what drives a company, far more so than leaders. Leaders will fail. They will grow and leave. They will become sick. They will make mistakes. They will die. Culture will never stop working for you. That is, it will never stop working for you, or working against you. What you need to do is get people who have experienced a strong working culture, maybe even a few who can lead that culture and get it spread around. It’s only when a team, or even a whole company works to the point that the individuals work for reasons other than themselves, for more than themselves, that you see explosive growth. More than that, it’s how you ensure long-term organizational success, regardless of leadership, regardless of temporary slumps in the economy, regardless of any storms which the company endures.
In summary, vets are a special breed. They have all the mentalities that good companies want. Tenacity, intuition, reliability, capability, responsibility, leadership and are part of a culture built on getting the job done. They are smart and they are serious. Seriously, why are all of our vets having such a hard time finding jobs? Perhaps it’s you.
The truth is, and this is why I write so much about fellow vets, many of us are having a hard time. Many civilians don’t understand us. People who have served are an enigma for many. They exist in contrast to many American values; an individualist society which champions personal expression, civil liberties, and personal financial, career, and political achievement, but that is built upon the presence of a class of warriors who, themselves enjoy little privilege to express themselves, have forgone many liberties, and have delayed their opportunities for the forms of achievement which society celebrates. In its extreme, we are society which cherishes our freedoms, luxuries, and security, but require, from time-to-time, volunteers who willingly sacrifice themselves in the greatest way imaginable. It’s a contradiction that I don’t think many have truly explored.
What’s more, the sheer presence of a veteran is becoming a rarer and rarer thing. Consider many years ago when our parents would tell stories about their fathers who fought in WWII in the Pacific, or their grandfather who battled in Europe. Those were truly different times. According the United States Census Bureau, the number of U.S. armed forces personnel who served in World War II between Dec. 1, 1941, and Dec. 31, 1946 was around 16 million people. For the period since 9/11, the number of US Service members is around 10 million with around 2.5 million actually having served either in Iraq or Afghanistan. These statistics sound comparable until you think about the fact that the War on Terror has gone on for more than twice, nearly three times as long as World War II for the Americans. The 1940 US census calculated a total population of 132,164,569 citizens. Today that number is estimated to be more than 312,000,000. That means that the odds of you running into, or even being a veteran in 1945 was around 12%. Nearly 1 in every 8 people was a veteran. Given also that at that time the entire population was also directed toward the war effort, it’s reasonable to say that there was no one without an understanding of the military and a passion for caring for the returning war fighter. Today, however, the story is different. Considering all living veterans today, of any period, you will find a veteran population of about 22 million, that’s roughly 7% of the total population of the United States and only 3% having served since 9/11. You also don’t see a culture that is wired around service towards ending the war effort. Few work for the defense industry or toward any activity that has a real involvement in the wars. War bonds also aren’t a thing. No one ever planted victory gardens in hopes of bringing home the troops. No one is recycling bacon grease or rationing gasoline in hopes that it will help us fight the terrorists. Realistically, nothing has changed much for the average American that one could really say relates to military activities. In truth it’s an afterthought or a political stance. Many citizens have opinions, but few have ownership. The truth of the matter, people who have any active role, veterans in particular, are getting rarer and rarer. One the one hand, it’s a sign of a peaceful society with few actual problems. One the other hand, its the pattern of a culture that has lost touch with the warrior subculture which shoulders the burden of American security without experiencing many of the rewards of it. This is a pattern which will continue in the future. By 2050, expect that the entire US veteran community will be less than 3% of the total population. Imagine, if you will, what this will mean for veteran benefits in the ballot boxes of the future when they are an even smaller minority of the voting population than they are today.
Frankly, people don’t associate with veterans that often. It isn’t often an intentional discrimination. It’s just much rare to find one than you think, as I have shown. Their rarity today is something of a novelty, owing a degree of admiration, a great deal of curiosity, often suspicion and fear, a few times disdain, but otherwise ignored because they are so severely misunderstood. This misunderstanding, in my opinion, comes from that break where no one really knows veterans. When people don’t really have any first hand experience with a veteran they fall back on stereotypes. There are many stereotypes which define us. Many of these I focused on because they are positive and help further the image of the United States warrior who has left the service. The truth is, no one perfectly captures all positive qualities of military service, but for the most part, there are so many good qualities which have been imbued into the character of a veteran of the United States. Many, if not most of qualities we have in common, are fundamental assets to employers. The pledge to support veterans is so strong that, for more than a decade thousands of companies have joined in numerous campaigns to hire veterans.
Yet you still aren’t hiring us. I wrote this post, if not just to show those individuals with hiring capacity some of the benefits that come attached to hiring veterans, but to address the fact that, in spite of so many companies’ very public advertising toward campaigns supporting returning troops, vets aren’t being hired.
Since the slump in 2009 and the massive unemployment that followed, veterans have led in unemployment for reasons I can only guess. I assume much of it is based on unfair biases I have faced since getting out myself. I’ve often heard things like, “You’re so articulate for veteran” or “I don’t know, I just sort of expected you be, like, crazy hard core or something.” Many people asked if I had been shot at, or even killed someone. I’ve also been asked in interviews if I had ever been in combat, which I don’t know someone at Chase’s local bank branch would need to know for a standard sales position, and some have even asked if I have ever had an actual job before. I’m not sure what an actual job constitutes for most people many of the people I interviewed for after college. I guess my experiences running a telecommunications service team of 11 technicians and responsible for more than $3 million dollars in gear and equipment for what amounted to a four hundred person company didn’t count as an actual job. In college I even had to correct a professor who threw out the old joke when asked what an oxymoron was. She replied, “Military Intelligence” to the laughter of a roomful of 19 year olds still living in their childhood homes. To say “corrected” is probably not the appropriate term, but everyone in the room knew better than to make such an unfair generalization again.
“Ma’am, are you aware of what it takes to re-calculate the trajectory of an object traveling at 3,110 ft/s for a three inch change in elevation at 5 times the length of a standard football field when factoring in for wind speed and direction as well as differences in elevation?” (Marine recruits do in week six of their basic training.)
Perhaps people do view that, because one forgoes college as a means to seek higher education, they are uneducated, or lack higher order cognitive processes. Perhaps media portrayal in movies, video games, and TV has simply just watered us down to two conflicting views as either a brave knight running off to do justice and make sacrifice, or of the radical bloodthirsty and murderous barbarian, too stupid to know when they are being used, both of which are completely unfit for the corporate world. Perhaps, as USA today back April of last year, followed by Forbes, have reported, there is more going on.
Many, apparently as many as one in three, employers consider the possibility of post-traumatic stress disorder to be an impediment to hiring a veteran, according to a survey report by the Society for Human Resource Management. Since it is illegal to ask about mental health status during an interview many just take the safe route and assume there is a problem. Considering that as low as 7% of post-9/11 veterans are estimated to be experiencing PTSD it’s a far cry from a necessary precaution. I’ve read that some of the reasons for this fear are that there is a fear of safety, owing to the fear that a veteran with PTSD might “go postal” and commit an office shooting or other acts of violence. I’m just going to be honest, this is as ignorant as not hiring a black guy because he was probably in a gang.
“There’s stigma attached to PTSD and traumatic brain injury and other hidden disabilities that people may assume soldiers have when they’re leaving the military,” says Nancy B. Adams, branch chief at the U.S. Army Warrior Transition Command. “They may always have that at the back of their mind.”
Others consider that in the military, everyone is conditioned to follow orders and lack the ability to think for themselves. I hope I’ve shown this to be a major fallacy as service people are regularly given complex problems with limited resources where their creative thinking and ability to solve unusual problems are showcased. Sadly, the effectiveness of a Marine Corps logistics chief saving her squadron more than three million dollars over the course of a fiscal year, rarely makes the local news real when much more sensationalized media is available.
Lastly, there is the fact that you probably have no idea what a tactical data network specialist is or the qualifications and capabilities of Platoon Sergeant. What is the difference between a Major and Chief Petty Officer? Are they the same? Does it matter? What’s a DD-214? It’s all foreign jargon and no one knows what any of this nonsense means. There are even classes that transitioning veterans must take to communicate their value to hiring managers who don’t know how to read the résumé. I don’t really blame civilians for this. It isn’t really anyone’s fault, but just owes to the fact that there are realistically so very few veterans out there, relative to the number of people who know anything about them. That said, the best way to solve this problem might not be for you to learn what all the military lingo is. Perhaps the best thing to do is ask someone on your staff with military experience to decode it and see what kind of diamond lies beneath the rough of a sheet of paper which will determine their fate. Don’t have any veterans on staff to help you out with this? Oh… You should probably think about this Veterans Day.
So the next time Veterans Day rolls around, I hope you don’t just give the ceremonial greeting, “Thank you for your service.” Do something for them that they can’t do for themselves. Give a résumé or application that runs over your desk a second look, or a third. There is nothing sadder in the world we live in today than seeing someone who gave up four years of their lives of their life for the reward of a handshake and a pat on the back by people who don’t honestly respect them enough to want to work with them.
Don’t worry about me. I’m proud to say that after many employment struggles trying to get noticed after college, I am happily employed doing something I love where I can feel my experience is valued and crucial to the work I am doing. In my spare time, I am fortunate enough to get also get to write and share my experiences and assistance for other veterans for free thanks to patronage from the crowdsourcing platform Patreon. It let’s followers and supporters donate to on a recurring basis so that I can continue helping get the good word out about veterans. If you did enjoy this post, please consider pledging your support through the link I’ve provided at the bottom of this post. If you don’t want to go that far, please like, share and comment to get the word out about ways you can help veterans on this Veterans Day.
The last section I was going to write about in this series was “Triumph over adversity.” I’m not going to write that section though. We all know that the military is made of winners. They haven’t lost a battle since Korea. Wars may be lost if the politics are incorrectly managed, but that failure isn’t owed to those who fought them. We all know that the military produces people who are capable of overcoming adversity, but once they get out, they are alone. Their adversity is now and the military doesn’t prepare them for a society that doesn’t understand them, nor value their abilities. They are without the collective network of support one receives in the military. Now they are in the realm where they are judged based, not on their actions, but on current politics and media perception. Frankly, they don’t need your thanks. They need your support. They need your connections. They need to be introduced into your networks. They need to be invited to the opportunities extended to others. They need you to give them a job.
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