The real reason to hire a veteran

I’ve grown tired of reading articles telling us why we should hire veterans.  Most are written by people who never served in the military, and while well meaning, they are often patronizing:

· The unemployment rate of veterans is too high, so let’s give them a job.

· They care for others, so let’s care for them.

· We owe them our gratitude, so let’s “thank them for their service.”

In fact, the most compelling reason is simple: veterans are often the best-qualified candidates.  Period.  While they may not have worked in a traditional office, or have an MBA, they do have strong leadership skills, understand how to work with diverse groups, work well under pressure, know how to solve problems, and appreciate what it really takes to work as part of a team.  Veterans have been taught to win, often against overwhelming odds, because their lives depend on it. Veterans bring true real world experience to the workplace.

If you want your organization to have a competitive advantage, consider hiring a veteran with at least a few years of active duty under his or her belt. Better yet, hire one with combat experience. 

Unfortunately, some people in today’s organizations have preconceived notions against veterans:  that they are inflexible, warmongers, and narrow in thought. According to the Defense Data Manpower Center, just .4 percent of the American population serve in the armed forces so it’s no surprise that we often misjudge and discount the contributions veterans can make. 

From my experience serving in leadership roles in four different industries and as both an enlisted sailor and a naval officer, I have found that most newly minted MBAs or even those with a few years experience, lack real-world awareness and analytical skills that veterans possess.

Most veterans are ready to hit the ground running when they join an organization.  They are used to dealing with multiple challenges, moving at a fast pace, and learning something new every day.  They know how to lead, but understand that it’s also necessary to follow.  Veterans appreciate the importance of achieving goals and winning because their actions often mean the difference between survival and death.

In my most recent book, “Truth, Trust + Tenacity,” I devote an entire chapter to lessons in leadership that can be learned from the armed forces.

I discuss how military officers are often expected to step up and take responsibility for their actions and behavior at a far younger age than those who enter the business world directly out of college—those same Marines, soldiers and sailors are given active leadership roles and accountabilities far earlier as well. Through their experiences, they learn what authentic leadership means, including courage, a skill that is less obvious in the business world, but should be.

It takes courage to steer an organization into and through uncharted territory and to compete with fiercer and stronger brands. It takes courage to do the right thing by your co-workers and the people you manage or to win against a fierce competitor in the marketplace.

It takes courage to try a new strategy or introduce a new product.

If organizations want sophisticated, quantitative, analytical, logistical, and operational skills—and want people who can handle all of that under pressure, they need to hire veterans.

Veterans have demonstrated remarkable flexibility in critical situations, have experience overcoming practically every form of adversity, and have gained knowledge leading and motivating others. Members of the armed forces have been taught to remain calm when things get rough, and use creativity to solve problems.

More organizations need to hire veterans, but they need to hire them for the right reason:  because they are often the best candidates for the job.

Ritch K. Eich is the former Chief of Public Affairs for Blue Shield of California and is a Captain, U.S. Naval Reserve (Ret.). He is the author of three books: “Truth, Trust + Tenacity: How Ordinary People Become Extraordinary Leaders” (2015); “Leadership Requires Extra Innings: Lessons on Leading from a Life in the Trenches” (2013); “Real Leaders Don’t Boss: Inspire, Motivate and Earn Respect from Employees and Watch Your Organization Soar” (2012).

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