Why Military Experience Makes Great Talent: Q&A with 2 Veterans Experts

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Two experts share insights on why and how you should be recruiting and hiring veteran talent.

U.S. Army Sgt. Sarah L. Blair enters vital information of Iraqi policemen into a laptop computer as Iraqi aide Antonio translates at an Iraqi police station in Samarra, Iraq, on Feb. 12, 2006. Blair is attached to the 4th Platoon, 987th Military Police Company.

Photo: U.S. Army Sgt. Sarah L. Blair and Iraqi aide Antonio enter information into a laptop computer in Samarra, Iraq, on Feb. 12, 2006. (U.S. Navy via Wikimedia)

Are you missing out on military-experienced talent? Ahead of Veterans Day in the U.S. and Remembrance Day in Canada, we asked two experts on veterans to weigh in on why and how employers should recruit service members who are transitioning to civilian life:

Dace Marsh is the director of communications for the Veterans Transition Network, a charity helping Canadian veterans through their transition process, reconnecting them with families, communities, and careers.

Paul A. Dillon is president and CEO of Dillon Consulting Services, a consulting firm serving veteran entrepreneurs, co-creator of startup incubators for veteran entrepreneurs in Chicago and Durham and an expert on military veterans in the workplace. Paul served as a first lieutenant with United States Army and completed a tour of service in Vietnam.

“People coming out of school often have very little work experience compared to veterans.”

Why should employers look to people transitioning out of military service as potential employees?

Dace: There are three main virtues of everyone in the military: teamwork, initiative to get stuff done, and discipline to stay on task. These are people who have been working hard and closely as a team, learning how to deal with coworker issues, and getting things done without constant supervision.

Across all divisions, veterans bring management skills and experience using those skills in crisis situations – being able to stay focused and work with their team. That’s experience not many people in the civilian world have a chance to build until something bad happens.

Paul: In many instances veterans have been taught skills that are highly transferable into the civilian job market; for example, a truck driver in the military probably has the same proficiency as a commercial truck driver, and a combat medic is likely to have even more experience than an ER nurse. But even for those former service people who don’t have highly transferable skills, veterans are highly trainable. They have the mindset of being trained, so they’re very quick to adapt and learn what you’re trying to teach them.

Furthermore, for senior non-commissioned officers or commissioned officers, it’s the best leadership training in the world. And I can tell you from experience: we’re taught to take care of our troops first. You don’t eat until your troops have eaten, sleep until your troops have slept. Otherwise, they just aren’t going to follow your lead into a dangerous place.

Do employers themselves get in the way of veterans transitioning to civilian employment?

Dace: Many employers don’t have an understanding of what the military is or what it provides to veterans. A study conducted for the Veterans Transition Advisory Council found 46 percent of employers believe a bachelor’s degree is more important than military service. Yet people coming out of school often have very little work experience compared to veterans, who often have many years experience working by that point in their careers.

Paul: In a survey by Edelman Berland, 28 percent of veterans said they feel being a veteran makes it more difficult to find employment. 23 percent said they did not get the respect they deserve when speaking to employers, and 16 percent said they find they have to defend themselves against accusations of psychological or emotional trauma. These aren’t just accusations; the Veteran Talent Index published by Monster Worldwide in May 2014 stated that 20 percent of employers had major concerns about post 9/11 vets, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and how that might affect young veterans on the job.

PTSD, traumatic brain injuries and substance abuse among veterans is what the media focuses on in its stories, and I think it’s produced a bias against hiring veterans – because 80 percent of veterans returning from recent wars are unimpaired in any way. They just want a chance to get a job. I talked about this in an article in Forbes last year.

“… It’s the best leadership training in the world. And I can tell you from experience: we’re taught to take care of our troops first.”

What’s a first step that employers can take to start finding and engaging with more veteran talent?

Dace: Learn about military experience equivalencies and include them in your job posts. For example, list the equivalent military experience to a bachelor’s degree that might be part of the role’s education qualifications. Consider managerial experience in the military as actual management experience. It’s common for veterans to apply for managerial-level roles but be dismissed by employers as inexperienced because their management experience was military, not in civilian employment.

Paul: Become culturally aware of what it’s like to serve in the military. If you don’t have a veteran or reservist to help you out or or anyone on your recruiting team who’s familiar with military customs and protocol, get up to speed by taking an online training program such as the Veteran 101 course provided by the PsychArmor Institute.

There are also many online resources available for companies that want to hire veterans: VetNet, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes, America’s Heroes at Work, Hire Heroes USA.

Finally, if you have a veteran in your company already, ask them to help you. Veterans like to deal with other veterans. Here I am, an old vet, but it’s very easy for me to have a relationship with someone coming out of the service right now because we understand what we’ve been through.


Christian De Pape, Recruiting Social’s Head of Marketing and Content
About the author

Christian De Pape is Head of Marketing and Content at Recruiting Social. Connect with him on LinkedIn.


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