Short on Leaders? Look to the Veteran Talent Pool

Veterans are a ready-made pool of leadership talent that likely only needs a little coaching to adapt to the civilian workforce — if others have the skills they need to deal with them appropriately.

Online applications are being accepted through Feb. 8, 2016, for the seventh cohort of the Leveraging Military Leadership Program. The in-residence portion of the program takes place from Friday, April 8, through Sunday, April 10, in Herndon, Virginia. The program is open to veterans of any rank who left the service in the past two years or who will transition in the next six months. To date, more than 250 service members from all branches of the military have participated in this pro bono program.

Military-to-civilian work transitions are receiving significant attention as of late, and with good reason. The U.S. Labor Department estimates that more than 1 million military service members will leave the military in the coming years. The importance of helping veterans make this difficult transition into the next chapter of their lives cannot be overstated.

However, a review of transition resources highlights a few shortcomings in the current approach. Most resources and programs focus on helping the veteran find civilian sector employment — any employment. Transition support is heavily centered on the mechanics of the transition process including résumé writing, working the job boards, creating LinkedIn profiles and conducting a successful interview.

However, if one acknowledges that veterans are a national asset with a great deal to contribute to the civilian workforce, the paradigm and objective can be flipped from finding a job to using the world-class skills, development and training veterans already have received.

The transition to a civilian career is difficult and challenging. But it’s not a full switch. While there are drastic differences between military culture and corporate culture, there are many transferrable skills — and more than most veterans and hiring managers initially believe. Military professionals have built capabilities during their careers in essential and in-demand skills, such as planning, problem-solving, team-building, consensus building, crisis management, managing diversity and dealing with ambiguity. These are some of the most in-demand and hard to develop skills in today’s talent marketplace.

Veterans are often highly agile. As part of Korn Ferry Hay Group and Harris Corp.’s Leveraging Military Leadership Program, a pro bono initiative to help members of the military make the transition to civilian careers, participants took an assessment measuring their learning agility (Editor’s note: The authors work for Korn Ferry Hay Group). The exercise showed that two-thirds of participants are more learning agile than civilians — many of whom are high-potential talent — who took part in the same assessment.

This suggests these individuals are skilled in executing strategy and getting the job done. They also ranked higher in self-awareness. Because of their military training, this group of individuals may be readily open to direct and candid feedback; and are more inclined to take action on that feedback.

Further, transitioning military members have likely had the opportunity to experience greater levels of leadership responsibility than peers in their same age group. For example, they may have worked with millions of dollars of equipment and have been put into ambiguous situations where they’re expected to make decisions based on the training they’ve received. They also may have had people leadership responsibilities at an earlier age than their peers in the private sector.

However, because most veterans have not had professional experiences outside of the military, they might not realize how their skills translate into the civilian workforce. When offering advice to transitioning members of the military, Korn Ferry recommends they start with deep introspection on what are they passionate about and what motivates them. This will lead to careers that are more fulfilling and have a higher purpose for the veteran, and are more productive for the employer.

Companies that commit to concerted veteran hiring efforts will not be disappointed. Consider the following tips for finding, hiring and keeping qualified veterans:

  • Look in the right places when sourcing. Employers will need to create a strong employer value proposition, whereby veterans know their service will be honored and valued. That means having hiring managers trained and dedicated to sourcing veterans, perhaps creating online talent communities geared specifically to the veteran audience.
  • Educate recruiters and hiring managers.Those who recruit and manage veterans should be offered development opportunities to help hiring managers see beyond the résumé to understand skills rather than specific military experiences.
  • Help veterans translate their unique skills into civilian skills. Ask a veteran what they did while they were in the military, and they might say, “I was a team leader in an artillery unit.” That veteran should be coached to go beyond what they did and into why it matters and the skills they developed, such as it helped them learn how to lead a team to get things done on time, to instill trust in others and how to deal with ambiguity.
  • Create ongoing development. The civilian world is different from military service. Help veterans adapt through programs that, for example, help them “influence without authority” instead of the traditional military hierarchy.