Veterans Among the Best Civilian Leaders

When it’s time to hire for critical positions within your company, consider the training and certification in military systems offered to service men and women. Always at the forefront of innovation, technologies pioneered by the military are often adopted by the commercial sector; companies looking for cyber knowledge or network engineering skills can find this expertise among veterans.

What’s more, military personnel have soft skills that the private sector also values, problem solving, team building, crisis management, dealing with ambiguity, collaboration, and creative thinking among them. Intensive training and a well-understood chain of command may have instilled in veterans a respect for authority and a commitment to duty, but this was not to the exclusion of their development as leaders.

Extensive assessment data has revealed that learning agility, or the ability to apply past experiences and lessons learned to new situations and first-time challenges, and self-awareness are proven predictors of future success. When agility assessments from transitioning military personnel were analyzed, two-thirds of participants ranked higher in learning agility than their civilian counterparts, many of whom were seen as “high-potentials.”

This finding may come as a surprise to some in the private sector who have the preconceived notion that military members are highly regimented and not creative in their thinking. However, as business leaders who have hired veterans and former military personnel who have successfully transitioned to the private sector can attest, military experience promotes agility.

The ability to adapt and learn in new situations, combined with the dedication, commitment and strong work ethic veterans bring to the table, encouraged Korn Ferry Futurestep to more actively recruit veterans for Talent Academy, an intensive training and onboarding program for recruiters at all levels of the organization. We know the varied backgrounds and experiences of veterans will contribute to each participant’s success and with them onboard we will be better able to support the veteran hiring initiatives of our clients.

While veteran unemployment rates have come down in recent years, numbers for Gulf War Era II veterans (those who left to military after 2001) without a job continues to outpace those for the general population. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for this most recent group of transitioning service members is 5.8 percent while the overall unemployment rate is 4.9 percent.

The discrepancy could be attributed to misconceptions like those mentioned above and to misunderstandings on the part of both veteran and hiring manager. Programs like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s “Hire Our Heroes” are needed to help veterans articulate their value proposition using competencies that potential recruiters, hiring managers, and networking contacts understand and embrace. This needs to be supported with well thought out and practiced stories from their service, shared without using any military jargon.

Some organizations are beginning to see the value in veteran recruitment and recognize the importance of tailoring their employer value proposition and brand strategy to them. Businesses with a commitment to hiring former service men and women are attending career fairs dedicated to veterans and building talent communities for veteran candidates. They are developing programs to support a veteran’s re-entry into the civilian workforce, which often include resources for spouses and children.

Attracting former service members is only half the battle. If these men and women don’t feel like a company is talking to them or that the roles are inaccessible to them because their resumes don’t match the job profiles, they will look elsewhere.

Talent acquisition leaders need to help their recruiting teams understand how the traits and experiences of a veteran candidate are applicable to an open requisition. Without this kind of conditioning, recruiters are likely to overlook a veteran candidate when they see, for example, three years of military service instead of three years of pharmaceutical experience on their resume.

It’s time to do away with the notion that transitioning service members are only qualified for entry-level positions or that they are ill-prepared for the ambiguity of Corporate America. As we’ve seen, these men and women possess a great deal of learning agility, an indication that they can adapt quickly in new situations.

As programs work to equip veterans with an understanding of how to navigate the civilian workplace and companies continue tailoring their messaging to this valuable demographic while coaching recruiters on how to interpret a veteran’s resume, these men and women may – finally – become easier to spot.


About the Author

Bill Sebra is Chief Operations Executive at Korn Ferry Futurestep. Click here to learn more about Korn Ferry Futurestep’s in-depth recruiter development program, Talent Academy.

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