If You Are Not Hiring Ex-Military You Are Wrong

by Cameron Schaefer on July 31, 2008

U.S. Army Special Forces jumping from an Air Force C-17

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.

T-6 Initial Solo

Initial Solo in the T-6 Texan at Vance AFB, OK

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.

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Brett McKay July 31, 2008 at 5:11 am

Excellent post, Cameron. Makes me want to join up right now!

Russ July 31, 2008 at 6:01 am

Maybe it’s because of the area I live in (Baltimore-D.C. corridor), but I’ve never heard of any employer writing ex-military off as jarheads or grunts. A military record is a HUGE plus on a resume out here, no matter what your field.

Akshay Kapur July 31, 2008 at 6:12 am

I really support this post. I have several friends in the military and they would make exceptional employees. Some of them were “discovering” themselves before they went into the armed forces, but man, when they came out, they knew who they were. Much respect for that.

I’d go back to the suburbs killing your manhood post though and point out that intense situations breed hard, disciplined men and routine, unchanging situations do the opposite. Coming from the Marines into the civilian world has to be a major culture shock.

As you said, they’ve handled all sorts of corporate-like challenges, but in high-intensity training situations or in the line of fire. It takes a certain kind of man to do that, and I can’t imagine it to be any easy task for that kind of trained combat professional to move into a much more dry, controlled atmosphere and perform similarly. It may be easier, but far less thrilling.

Anyway, you make a great point that I’ll always support.

Cameron Schaefer July 31, 2008 at 7:37 am

@ Brett,

You still have time, come fly C-17′s with me!

@ Russ,

It’s true, never before has there been such support for the troops as there is today. And MOST employers understand how valuable ex-military are. Just wanted to write this in attempt to win over the last remaining holdouts that weren’t quite sure, haha!

@ Akshay,

The transition into civilian life is a really strange thing. Obviously I haven’t done it yet, but I’ve heard countless stories of guys working a civilian job for a few years then re-enlisting in the military because of various reasons: miss the feeling of serving the country, miss the guys they worked with, too much drama in the office environment, etc.

It would be an interesting study to see why guys who join the civilian world sometimes decide to jump right back into the military after a few years out.

Thanks for the support!

Alik | PracticeThis.com July 31, 2008 at 11:16 am

“leadership, adaptability, and the ability to perform well under stress ” – i agree completely with this.

One thing though bothers me is when it comes to creativity and flexibility. Sometimes, ex-military folks do stuff with deep belief that their way IS the Only way. Adaptability cannot replace flexibility.

In any way, i do agree that ex-military folks’ ability to work under stress is pure gold capability

fathersez August 1, 2008 at 6:38 am

And discipline.

I have found this to be a great plus in the ex military guys I have worked with.

Urbane Lion August 12, 2008 at 3:39 pm

Great post! I actually work in Transition Services for National Defence in Ottawa, Canada and my job is to help injured members who are medically released to transition on to civie street. Luckily we have great programs such as Priority Hiring in the Federal government. Needless to say that this program is highly succesful and employers are very happy with our members for all of the reasons you mentioned in your post. Good job!

Cameron Schaefer August 12, 2008 at 10:11 pm

@ fathersez,

Definitely, discipline is something most military members develop whether they want to or not, haha!

@ Urbane Lion,

What a great job you have, thank you for what you do! It is great to hear that employers are finding these traits to be true as well. Priority Hiring is something I’ve never heard of, is it strictly Canadian or are there other country’s doing it that you know of?

Urbane Lion August 13, 2008 at 4:22 pm

I used to be a business owner but sold it 5 years ago. I now make about 95K less a year but I find this job extremely rewarding. The Priority Hiring give priority appointment for positions in the federal government to medically released CF members. This is an actual legislation and can’t be circumvented. Oddly enough we look very carefully at your transition programs to see if they can be implemented in Canada. You have very interesting programs such as Helmets to Hard Hats and an entrepreneur boot camp given by the University of Syracuse. Keep up the good work!

Devildogg October 2, 2008 at 3:33 pm

Good Post..A larger majority of the civilian world knows nothing of the honor, courage, and commitment the nations military puts forth to protect the freedoms of this country. I actually have been spit on upon disclosing the fact that I served in the first gulf war, being accused of “killing babies” and “being a war mongor”. Thank you…Former U.S.M.C. Sergeant

Urbane Lion October 2, 2008 at 5:36 pm

Devildogg: Not my style to self promote but an interesting thing happened at the restaurant the other day that warranted a post on my site; http://www.urbanelionsden.com/2008/09/random-acts-of.html

The lady in question even told the CWO that she was dissapointed they hadn’t ordered beer!

Man Overboard October 6, 2008 at 6:37 pm

Excellent post. If I ever have the privilege of being in a position to hire someone, it would be my honor to hire a veteran. How could any position I offer ever compare to what a veteran has already accomplished?

Charles Quimby October 7, 2009 at 6:01 am


Nice article!

Our company recently polled a number of sales industry discussion forums and posted the question: “Do people with military backgrounds make good sales people?”

The question received tremendous response and as such, became the subject of a blog article written by one of my colleagues. It was posted on various groups in LinkedIn and stirred up lots of interesting dialog.

I thought you and or your readers might find it interesting, so I took the liberty of forwarding it along. I hope it finds you well.

Best regards,
Charles Quimby


If They Serve, Can They Sell?

Few would argue that military experience teaches leadership skills valuable in the corporate world. But is military experience an asset for someone who chooses a sales career?

I posted the question on several sales-focused Linkedin groups. Not surprisingly, a large majority of responders (80%) believe the ex-military make good sales people. Citing attributes such as tenacity, discipline, work ethic, and ability to work under pressure, most would not hesitate to hire these folks – assuming they possessed the right personality type.
What I found most interesting was the anecdotal comments made by those cautious of hiring ex-military:

“Are trained by the numbers. May struggle if the job requires out-of-the-box thinking.”
“Reluctant to call on senior executives. Might be a result of the rank system”
“Struggle in sales manager roles. Expect sales people to follow orders and do what they are told. People don’t behave that way in the civilian world.”

In my opinion, military experience can be a real asset for sales, especially in challenging times. Like any other candidate, they must be fully vetted during the hiring process to make sure they possess the appropriate skills / mindset for the mission at hand.

With that said, I made one of my worst mistakes as a sales leader by hiring an ex-officer from a very elite group. Needing someone to “pioneer” a new territory, I felt he was perfect for this difficult assignment. I was so enamored with his background that I ignored red flags raised during the hiring process. As it turned out, he was severely deficient in mental toughness. How he made it through his unit’s notoriously rigorous training still remains a mystery to me……

curt clements October 10, 2009 at 12:17 pm

thanks and any other sites to advertise open jobs. We are currently searching for staff with logistics background especially in the courier / integrator field (UPS , TNT, FED EX, DHL). Openings in Afghanistan, Iraq, Dubai and others

Anna March 9, 2010 at 6:58 pm

So….do you know of anyone who is hiring? Since I got out six years ago, I have obtained my BS and MBA and work a grunt job. I used to repair electronic components on weapons. For some reason, the civilian world won’t give me a chance to do anything other than menial, secretarial work. HR professionals are clueless and it makes no sense to me. My husband is also prior military and also had an electronics job. He cannot even get hired as a cashier, burger flipper or an exterminator because they seem to think that he couldn’t do it. Excuse me but how can a hiring manager come to the stupid conclusion that he doesn’t have the mental capacity to run a cash register or spray houses considering what he did? It makes absolutely no sense!

Chris Graves May 11, 2010 at 9:55 am

I am an ex-military US Army Special Forces 18B (Green Beret) and I can not find a job anywhere in Birmingham if anyone can help I would be truly grateful. Thank You

Cameron Schaefer May 12, 2010 at 10:22 am


I passed your request to a few friends who live in that neck of the woods. No promises, but hopefully something will come of it. I’ll let you know if anyone gets back to me.

Chris Graves May 12, 2010 at 3:41 pm


Thank you very much. I have a very extensive resume if you would like me to send you one and you would be willing to pass it on I would be very grateful. If not that’s fine I thank you all the same for checking for me. It has been very difficult. since I got off active duty in 2008 I have only been able to find one job that did not work out after 7 months due to personal reasons. I have been going to college and using my gi-bill but my college makes you pay upfront for tuition and wait 3 months to get your money back, and unfortunately its not enough to go to college on. I need a job quick, but no one is hiring I cant even get a job at a gas station or Wendy’s or anywhere. I am far over qualified for many jobs but civilians don’t know what my resume means. Its pretty pathetic when an ex-special forces (Green Beret) cant get a minimum wage job. If anyone can help you would be doing me a huge favor. Thank you


Greg R Kline April 30, 2013 at 4:31 am

If it was up to me, I would NOT hire another ex-military as an employee. Our group of 3 military employees have formed their own little cliq and are disrespectful to the rest of the team. The finger pointing and accusations management heard became unbearable, decreased moral, and slowed productivity. After careful investigation, we found the civilian employees were following the correct procedures while the military seemed to have their own un-official procedures and they expected the civilians to follow. The exmilitary folks would resort to namecalling and finger-pointing far sooner than the civilians. The civilians seemed more willing to try bridge the gap to get along. We eventually had to separate the group of 3 ex-military employees on their own project from the rest of the team. This way we can make sure they follow the procedures they are supposed to and won’t interfere with the productivity of the whole team. Terminations may follow if anyone chooses not to follow company procedures.

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