Time to Call in the Military

Armed forces veterans have experience suited to a lot more than vacant security guard positions. Don't overlook their talent

The war for talent is on. When searching for new talent to hire, consider that virtually every position within your organization most likely has a parallel that exists in some form in the military. The U.S. military, with a combined total of nearly 225,000 officers and almost 1.2 million enlisted personnel, is one of the richest talent pools available.

It is also largely overlooked. True, companies looking to fill security guard positions often associate former military personnel with good hires because such candidates are experienced in guarding property and trained in the use of force. While that makes sense, limiting former military personnel to consideration in this one area means we are overlooking the potential benefit of the military talent pool to civilian business.

Each branch of the military—Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard—is a diverse source of talent. While the Defense Dept. no longer releases detailed demographic information, we know the all-volunteer military is much different from the drafted military of the Vietnam era. For example, the volunteer cadre is older, and it is better trained, more experienced, and more likely to be married.

Tested Leadership Skills

Additionally, the military as an organization values education and encourages it with structured compensation based upon achievement of objectives as well as education. Officers generally possess four-year college degrees, and many earn advanced degrees (see BusinessWeek.com, 4/18/07, "Throw the Book at College Rankings").

Enlisted personnel are also well-trained, with certified skills and proven experience in such areas as engineering, logistics, maintenance, construction, labor relations, human resources, facilities management, finance, and a host of technical areas. And they are leaders with tested experience in complex situations in both wartime and peace.

The challenge then is twofold: connecting with military personnel, and drawing the parallel between military and civilian jobs. One option many companies choose is to hire a military-specialty search firm and pay a premium for each hire.

However, that may be unnecessary. A quick survey of internal talent is likely to identify military experience among those already employed. These people can help build relationships with the military as well as champion it to fellow hiring managers as a talent source.

For successful military talent integration into the corporate world, Army and Marine Corps positions must be translated into understandable civilian job descriptions. The Military Occupational Specialty groupings pull together similar positions within the military, each detailing the skills, education, and responsibility required.

This is akin to how companies use similarly situated employee groups to pull together job classifications. Companies should identify key needs and then work with the military to correlate classifications and the key positions that translate well.

Ability to Manage People

For example, a warehouse supervisor in the Army is easily translated to a warehouse supervisor in a business. On the other hand, few field artillery targeting technicians exist within civilian companies, so most companies pass on someone with this title on a résumé. The corporate world needs to recognize that although the same position may not exist, the skill set and experience do, and they can translate to another area.

So the field artillery targeting technician who has demonstrated leadership, the ability to manage teams of people towards a specific goal, and the ability to handle stress would be a very good candidate for a general or front-line management position.

The U.S. government is also working hard to help employers understand the unique skills and qualifications of veterans through initiatives such as Hire Vets First. Web site www.hirevetsfirst.gov helps employers learn more about the military via translation tools as well as testimonials from employers. Additionally, the site assists veterans, or soon-to-be veterans, in becoming more knowledgeable about career opportunities at military-friendly companies.

Our Tax Dollars

Finally, companies must develop a strategy to access transitioning military talent. The average military person retires much earlier than people in the civilian workforce. Someone who entered the military at 18 and retires after 20 years of service is only 38 years old; they have 20 to 30 years of civilian work ahead of them. It is our responsibility to help them join our workforce, and we should recognize that we have an opportunity to take advantage of the leadership and technical skills they have learned while employed in the armed forces.

Every person exiting the military is required to matriculate through a formal transitioning process before entering the civilian workforce; our tax dollars fund these transition offices. The military is eager to help employers find good jobs for personnel leaving. Therefore, the key to success is developing relationships with the armed forces at the base level as well as in the community.

Most companies approach military recruitment as an individual hiring decision. Hiring a single veteran to fill a position is a good idea, but a better move is to think strategically and develop relationships with the military for the long term.

Companies that work to increase their awareness of potential talent and understanding of how to translate military skills and experience will reap the benefits from a valued and effective workforce—in every position from floor supervisor in a large retail store, to a midlevel accountant in a Big Four firm, to a truck driver in a shipping company.

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