Hiring Military Veterans: The Hidden Skills That Make Them Remarkable Employees

Much of the public pictures veterans in one-dimensional images: Someone in fatigues armed with a rifle and a grenade launcher. However, there’s much more to job candidates with military experience than the skills depicted in today’s Hollywood.

Jobs in the military actually reflect those jobs throughout our country. The U.S. military needs and trains HR specialists, doctors, purchasing agents, police, IT professionals, mechanics, building engineers, linguists, recruiters and administrative clerks. For every job in the general economy, there’s probably a military counterpart.

Yes, those HR specialists and IT professionals will have qualified with their military-issue weapon, but they’ll also have the soft skills fundamental to the success of your business. Emotional intelligence, or EQ, may be the biggest and most underappreciated asset of the veteran.

Essential functions vs. essential EQ

It’s a workplace truism that you hire for skills and fire for behaviors. Once you, the hiring manager, have analyzed the essential functions and skills required for the job you need filled, it’s time to consider EQ.

Ask yourself: What soft skills are as necessary for the position as the technical proficiencies?

Military experience builds EQ in much the same way as team sports. The biggest difference is that rather than playing football or basketball for a season, the military requires its members to work on a team to reach specific goals day-in and day-out for years at a time.

Veterans have come out of an environment where they have to be comfortable giving and taking orders, setting goals, and – critically for your organization – achieving those goals in a specific time frame.

In the military, there’s always a deadline, a purpose and an expected result, so veterans tend to be focused. What’s more, they are trained to think in terms of their team while being aware of individual contributions.

Other intangibles with value to your company: Veterans and their families are accustomed to relocation and its challenges. In addition, veterans are used to being punctual, dressing to a code and working in a drug-free environment.

Adaptable to change

The military requires its soldiers to continuously adapt because its teams are constantly changing as team members come and go, often in uncertain conditions. Regardless, soldiers must adapt quickly under pressure to get a job done well.

This adaptability and mental toughness translate well to the civilian workforce. You can count on a veteran to stay focused on goals during normal disruptions of the workday.

No, you’re not likely to need an employee to scale a mountain or sleep outside, but the experience of having done that, especially as part of a team operating in unpredictable circumstances, is an obvious asset in today’s fast, changing business environment.

Yes, many veterans have been exposed to advanced technology and may have valuable security clearances, but flexibility, leadership and adaptability are their hidden assets.

Comfortable with diversity

Veterans are used to diversity. Most military personnel have worked overseas, so they’ve been exposed to working in different cultures, with unfamiliar foods, modes of dress and standards of behavior.

As businesses become ever more global, this ability to work effectively with others who may look, think and act differently is an obvious asset to your company. And, you may get someone with the ability to work in two or three languages.

What’s more, the military has been diversifying its workforce since the early 20th century making veterans accustomed to working closely with those of other genders and races. If your business needs a diversity boost, hiring a few veterans may be the avenue to make that happen.

Remember, skill set accounts for only 30-40 percent of what’s needed to be successful in most jobs. The majority of jobs in our economy require the ability to interact well with co-workers and customers. That’s why, with basic skills being met, a veteran may be your best hire.

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