More and more military veterans are re-entering the civilian workforce each year. While there are many benefits to hiring veterans, the smartest businesses understand the one that matters most: talent.
“It doesn’t matter what kind of company you are or what industry you’re in, veterans have the skills that you’re looking for,” said Lisa Rosser, CEO and founder of The Value of a Veteran, a human resources consulting and training firm.
But skills and expertise accrued in the military can get lost in translation as veterans transition to the civilian world. Many recruiters make assumptions about service members’ capabilities based on limited exposure to military activities, according to Rosser, a veteran with 10 years of active duty Army experience. “They see service members blow things up and run things over with tanks on the news,” she said.
Yet, about 80 percent of military jobs have direct or very close civilian equivalents, according to Rosser. “[The military has] x-ray technicians, financial specialists, human resources people and legal specialists,” she said. “You name it, and the chances are we’ve got that already in the military.”
Even combat veterans have highly transferable skills, such as operations and leadership experience. Employers should recognize that most veterans are foisted into situations where they experience a larger amount of responsibility than the average 22-year-old would right out of college. They can make decisions, they can work under pressure, and they’re usually natural leaders.
Service members also are used to learning new skills, often in stressful situations. This will help them—and their employers—especially in fast-paced and constantly changing environments. “Everything that they’re asked to do in the military they are provided with training to do,” said Emily King, vice president of the Buller Group recruiting firm and author of Field Tested: Recruiting, Managing and Retaining Veterans. “Nobody goes into the military at 18 knowing how to operate lasers and tanks in crazy conditions.”
Bridging the gap of understanding between the two worlds is key to the successful transition of personnel from the military to the corporate workplace, said The Value of a Veteran’s Rosser.
King suggested that veterans can gain new awareness of the civilian world by talking to friends and contacts already in the workforce. They can also join—or start—employee resource groups that allow veteran employees to share tips and experiences about transitioning.
Civilian employers, on the other hand, can help ensure that the best and brightest military personnel apply for open positions by writing job descriptions that align requirements with military equivalents, making them understandable to someone who is not already in the industry, said Rosser. Companies also need to understand that tapping into military talent may take longer than the usual recruitment process and change the way recruiters’ performance is measured to account for the extra time, she added.
Veterans may find it challenging to communicate their skills, for instance, because there are no resumes in the military, and military job descriptions may use jargon that civilian recruiters don’t understand. Recruiters may also need to take extra time to talk to service members about the tasks they performed in the military to truly understand what they’re capable of doing in the civilian work world, said Rosser.
Once a veteran is hired, one of the most important things a company can do to support him or her is to engage early and provide some level of tailored on-boarding—like a Civilian 101, said King, whose firm offers a Certified Veteran Recruiter training program.
Indeed, veterans who join the military right out of high school often find big differences in the civilian workforce, explained Rosser. “The military has a very strong culture, and if that’s all you’ve known for four years or 14 years or 24 years, how the rest of the world operates can seem very strange and sometimes very inefficient.”
The military’s command and control environment, for example, makes it clear by rank or grade who is in charge and able to give instructions. In a civilian workforce, those lines are not as clear, said Rosser.
“If the company doesn’t offer any kind of assistance, then it may take too long for the veteran to have any feeling of success—and they’re used to feeling successful and being effective,” she added.
Although military recruiting is different, that shouldn’t be a barrier, said King. A company wouldn’t do campus recruiting the same way it would do an executive search, she explained. And companies have a lot to gain by learning different ways to recruit veterans.
Said Rosser, “We’re not doing this because it’s the charitable thing to do for service members; it truly comes down to talent.”
Written by Lisa Wirthman. Originally published as part of Northwestern MutualVoice on Forbes.com.