This is not a pity post where I tug on your heartstrings. I’m doing your organization, whatever it may be, a huge favor. Ex-military members represent one of the greatest hiring opportunities, yet many go undiscovered because they are chalked up as “grunts” and “jarheads” rather than the highly-skilled professionals they truly are.
Even for those who hold service members in high esteem, few realize that the skills acquired by soldiers are applicable in arenas other than battlefield. The hallmark qualities of a U.S. military member: leadership, adaptability, and the ability to perform well under stress are the same traits which cause recruiters for corporations large and small to salivate. And they should.
Never before has our military been comprised of a more educated and highly trained force. The old sterotypes of only officers being college educated have been smashed to pieces as many active-duty enlisted members now not only have bachelor’s degrees, but master’s as well. Add to this language and cultural training as well as job-specific skills and you start to see a clear picture of today’s professional soldier. It is the high quality of each individual military member that makes us the the most effective and lethal military force in history.
Leadership – From the very first day of basic training military members are trained to be leaders. It starts with the personal discipline necessary to lead yourself and follow detailed instructions. Seemingly simple tasks like proper uniform wear and a clean room can become quite challenging when coupled with memorizing various pieces of military knowledge, physical training and the constant hovering of cadre or instructors watching each move with an eagle eye and a willingness to clearly point out your shortcomings.
After successfully demonstrating personal leadership military members then transition into other leadership roles becoming the ones responsible for passing on the training. Every military member is given the opportunity to lead others and practice the art of organizing a group around a common objective. These skills are practiced at home and cemented in places like Afghanistan and Iraq where the consequences of poor leadership are nothing short of getting those under your command injured or killed.
Leadership is often talked about in business and chanted at various retreats and seminars, but I can think of no better leadership laboratory than the military. On a daily basis young 20-something commanders are asked to juggle the mission, cultural relations, geopolitical concerns and the health and welfare of those in their command – all while being under the constant threat of IED’s, sniper fire and shoulder-launched rockets. Can military members lead? You can bet your life on it.
Adaptability – Our military is currently at a place in history where the mind of a soldier is quickly becoming the most necessary tool of war. The current conflicts in both Iraq and Afghanistan have shown that traditional military force is ill-suited for an nontraditional enemy that wears street clothes for a uniform and chooses mosques and hospitals for concealment. Adaptability is an essential part of succeeding in a highly dynamic and volatile environment. Military members understand this and they practice it everyday.
Take the battle of Mazar-i-Sharif in Afghanistan for instance, where U.S. Special Forces teamed up with the Northern Alliance to take the city from Taliban rule. American troops rode on horseback alongside their Afghan allies marking targets and calling them in over the radio to U.S. military aircraft who used precision-guided munitions to bomb enemy positions. I’m sure if you would have told those guys they would be riding horses the next time they went to war they would have said you were nuts, but they adapted to the environment and made real-time decisions which proved highly successful.
This is just one example of thousands where U.S. military men and women are adapting to the environment in which they find themselves and using their ingenuity to carry out the mission. This same mentality is valuable in the business world where the market is continually changing and businesses that insist on doing things the way they’ve always done them soon find themselves passed by. The ability to adapt more quickly than the opponent is what makes our military great and is a skill each member can add to any organization they enter.
Performance Under Stress – The military believes in stress inoculation. That is the practice of introducing members to high levels of stress early in their career so that their bodies and minds aren’t so easily rattled when placed in stressful situations in the future. In the same way your body builds immunity to a disease by being introduced to a small amount, military members are yelled at, physically trained, mentally challenged, and completely stressed at every corner during training to build immunity.
As freshman, or 4 degrees, at the U.S. Air Force Academy we were constantly forced to recite long quotes verbatim while in the push-up position. At first, it wasn’t much of a problem, but after 10 or 15 minutes when sweat was dripping into your eyes and your arms were starting to shake, the ability to remember your middle name, let alone a quote on war by John Stuart Mill, was incredibly difficult. But, over the course of the year we all got better and soon yelling became similar to a nice chat and physical stress could be temporarily ignored when it was necessary to think about something else.
The effects of this training are immensely beneficial, allowing soldiers to stay more calm and make better decisions when the world around them is crumbling. Panic attacks or getting stressed out are not options for military members who have people counting on them to lead no matter what the circumstances. As any CEO or manager knows, every business and organization carries with it some stressful situations and times, but by hiring ex-military you can rest assured that nothing will shake them enough to keep the mission from getting done.
There is no better recruiting pool in the world than the U.S. military. Every day service members retire or separate from active duty and face the daunting task of starting a new life in the civilian world. Organizations should be quick to recognize the tremendous opportunity represented in these young professionals. The ones who do will reap the rewards of highly motivated and well-equipped professionals and will be the first ones in line to hire more ex-military in the future.
***For more information, a great resource is G.I Jobs.net, a magazine dedicated to helping the transitiong between military and civilian careers.