Oh, the aftermath of war. It makes for interesting television characters, movie plots, and book story arcs, but in reality it's not a subject most take the time to explore. To understand the many facets of this American life, we, as a culture, must acknowledge the obstacles faced by our former service members and subsequently ask the question: how can we turn this into an opportunity?
Although the unemployment rate for Veterans decreased in 2015, we still have work to do as a society when it comes to building companies that value the highly transferable skills of men and women who have served in the armed forces.
There are a few obstacles, though: many hiring managers don't know how to evaluate and apply the operational and executional skillsets of Veterans; there are misunderstandings about what it's like to work with them (because of perceived "issues"); and there are less Veteran networks offering a community of support these days. Ironic, considering our burgeoning technology landscape and seemingly "connected" worlds.
Furthermore, while the government has developed programs for reintegrating Veterans into the workforce (providing support for tasks like resume building, etc.), the "return" on these programs is somewhat abysmal. Subsequently, many Veterans take it upon themselves to get what they really need.
Gerry Borja, U.S. Army Veteran and Corporate Recruiter for Qualcomm, comments, "One of the biggest challenges Vets face is that they're dealing with an entirely different culture than where they came from. It may still be the United States, but it's almost as though they are integrating back into a different country."
Particularly as business owners and entrepreneurs, I would suggest it is our "duty" to explore this topic and be conscious of how to do our part. Not from the standpoint of charity, but simply based on the fact that it simply makes "good business sense" to include this particular human experience into our conversations; because it nearly jolts us into a new perspective and way of thinking.
But if you need reasons, here are five that just may suffice:
#1 - They're highly adaptable.
Judson Kauffman, former Navy SEAL and Managing Partner of staffing and leadership-development firm Exbellum (whose mission is to help Veterans find work and corporate America find top-tier talent) shares his experience: "One thing I learned in the military was how to deal with bad situations, be resilient, and be adaptable." He noticed that a lot of the companies he spoke with when initially seeking employment sought candidates with impeccable leadership skills.
It's not rare for a startup employee to be hired for one role, only to have it evolve into three different ones during their tenure. The technological skills that are most valued today can change practically overnight. That said, employees such as Veterans who can pivot on a dime, learn new tasks quickly, and fill in empty holes when and where needed, will become startups' most valuable assets. Joe Wolfel, another Exbellum partner and former Navy SEAL, adds:"In particular, Special Operations guys are used to changing roles or projects every two years." It's a match made in heaven.
#2 - They handle stress incredibly well.
If you've ever worked at a startup, or survived rapid scaling at a company of any size, you know the pressure associated with fast growth and competitive innovation. Who in the world is better trained to handle stress than Veterans? Startups and hiring managers should, however, keep in mind that there will be a cultural learning curve for Veterans as they partake in today's common practices such technology sprints and other extra-hours-required projects. The latter shouldn't be a problem, though, because...
#3 - They're used to working long hours.
Victoria Cavener was an enlisted medic for more than nine years. She shares, "When I came back, I was incredibly well-trained. I had run entire clinics and done surgery. But since I didn't have a degree, I couldn't find a fit in the civilian world." Despite being overqualified, she attended school, is now a PhD candidate at Vanderbilt University, works as a Molecular Neurosicence Graduate Research Assistant, and she started an outreach project called WeWillNotGiveUp.org which shares stories about medical advancements in order to give others (including wounded and ill Veterans) hope.
If that doesn't illustrate the fact that Veterans don't mind putting in extra work and time for things they believe in, take it straight from Cavener, "The concept of working long hours and weekends can be a blurred line. Veterans do whatever it takes to get the job done." When driven by a greater purpose, long hours aren't a chore. And we all know that when you work at a startup, your wheels don't stop turning when your head hits the pillow.
#4 - They're incredibly driven, and push their own limits.
Veterans come to the hiring pen having already demonstrated their passion for hard work and self-advancement. Wolfel shares a bit about the draw of the armed forces: "I asked myself how far I could go. I was into the performance aspect of it. There was an attraction for people who are really interested in pushing themselves." If you think about it in that sense, is there really a group of people more fitting to work at startups?
Denise Bottiglieri, who works closely with Exbellum as CEO of Healthcare Consultancy Group (an Omnicom company), adds, "Veterans have a highly disciplined approach in everything they do, yet not so much that they lose fluidity." Startups can benefit greatly from this kind of headstrong yet malleable mindset.
#5 - They thrive when working on a team.
The very nature of the military is that of a team mentality: Individual wins are not the point. The camaraderie developed when someone is overseas, or even when training at home, lends itself to cooperation in the workplace. If anything, Veterans are hungry for more of it. Joel Beam, former Navy SEAL and VP of Operations at The Scienomics Group says, "Your whole life is around this one group of people, and you're with them most days of the year. It's hard to step aside from the team mentality, and after leaving the military it's certainly something Vets would value in a work environment."
From my experience, the necessity of finding team-oriented employees is the lifeblood of building an early-stage company. In fact, it may be one of the most important qualities to seek out; thus, as business owners and hiring managers, we would be best served to push this "soft skill" to the top of our list of non-negotiables.
So which companies are doing a good job in terms of making Vets a core asset? Here are a few examples to explore for your own Veteran initiatives and to inspire you toward action:
A survey conducted by Monster and Military.com in late 2015 found that 88% of Veterans' skillsets are relevant to civlian careers, a 10% increase from a survey conducted in 2011. Large companies have illustrated this through recruitment initiatives, such as Walt Disney Company's Heroes Work Here program, Qualcomm's Veteran recruitment program, and Dell's Veterans at Dell initiative, the latter of which includes a dedicated Veterans ERG for continued support. Additionally, organizations like Hiring Our Heroes (an initiative of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce), is making strident efforts to support Veterans in finding meaningful employment.
But companies don't need to be large corporations with ample resources to start diversifying their workforce in this way. Small companies, such as startups, would greatly benefit from Veterans' diverse and applicable skills.
Helping Veterans reintegrate into today's professional landscape isn't as simple as just hiring them or donating to a worthy program. It's about first understanding the value they bring so that we properly leverage their executional and operational skills. Why wouldn't you aim to hire some of the nation's most disciplined, driven individuals?