Hire a veteran and . . .

Following the completion of their military assignments, some people find themselves working in the nonprofit sector. Our sector does, after all, comprise nearly 10 percent of the U.S. workforce. No doubt there are a number of former military personnel on your board or staff. Have you hired a veteran, or are you one yourself?

It’s been our experience, both personally and with many RMA client organizations over the years, that former military officers and enlisted people understand building a team under extreme stress, establishing trust with others in life or death situations, motivating people when the odds are against you, following rules but thinking independently, and exuding confidence.

The case for employing veterans appears below. This is from a brochure published by the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. It’s a very persuasive argument, even without the tax credits that for-profit companies can earn. Following the checklist are a few of RMA’s observations.

1.  Accelerated learning curve – Veterans have the proven ability to learn new skills and concepts. They can enter your workforce with identifiable and transferable skills proven in real world situations.

2.  Leadership – The military trains people to lead by example as well as through direction, delegation, motivation and inspiration. Veterans understand the practical ways to manage behaviors for results, even in the most trying circumstances. They also know the dynamics of leadership as part of both hierarchical and peer structures.

3.  Teamwork – Veterans understand how genuine teamwork grows out of a responsibility to one’s colleagues. Military duties involve a blend of individual and group productivity. They also necessitate a perception of how groups of all sizes relate to each other and an overarching objective.

4.  Diversity and inclusion in action – Veterans have learned to work side by side with individuals regardless of diverse race, gender, geographic origin, ethnic background, religion and economic status as well as mental, physical and attitudinal capabilities. They have the sensitivity to cooperate with many types of individuals.

5.  Performance under pressure – Veterans understand the rigors of tight schedules and limited resources. They have developed the capacity to know how to accomplish priorities on time, in spite of tremendous stress. They know the critical importance of staying with a task until it is done right.

6.  Respect for procedures – Veterans have gained a unique perspective on the value of accountability. They can grasp their place within an organizational framework, becoming responsible for subordinates’ actions to higher supervisory levels. They know how policies and procedures enable an organization to exist.

7.  Technology and globalization – Because of their experience, veterans are usually aware of international and technical trends. The can bring the kind of global outlook and technological savvy that all enterprises of any size need to succeed.

8.  Integrity – Veterans know what it means to do “an honest day’s work.” Prospective employers can take advantage of a track record of integrity, often including security clearances. This integrity translates into qualities of sincerity and trustworthiness.

9.  Conscious of health and safety – Thanks to extensive training, veterans are aware of health and safety protocols both for themselves and the welfare of others. Individually, they represent a drug-free workplace that is cognizant of maintaining personal health and fitness. On an organizational level, their awareness and conscientiousness translate into protection of employees and property.

10.  Triumph over adversity – In addition to dealing positively with the typical issues of personal maturity, veterans have frequently triumphed over great adversity. They likely have proven their mettle in mission-critical situations demanding endurance, stamina and flexibility. They may have overcome personal disabilities through strength and determination.

This is certainly a powerful set of claims, although some statements are arguable. As we have all learned, sometimes the description of a “strength” is actually also a potential weakness from another point of view. Are some military people overly hierarchical, inflexible, and adrift without solid procedures in place (and therefore not a good choice for a small nonprofit)? Or is this a tired, old stereotype that needs to be left behind?

Activists on women’s issues, noting the recent attention being paid to the rate of sexual harassment and sexual assault reported in the military, could take issue with the claim that gender issues are in the “plus” column.  It’s an interesting thought, given how critical it is that people you hire are a fit for your organizational culture. Young people in particular learn their standards of behavior from observing others in action.

As far as being excellent additions to your team, you could be concerned that veterans’ tangible and experiential skills too often eclipsed by post-traumatic stress disorders, potentially undiagnosed or untreated. Regardless, are we morally and ethically bound to help employ veterans? Some excellent resources on this subject can be found at americasheroesatwork.gov.

Here’s a final thought. If you were trying to make a hiring decision from a small group of otherwise qualified candidates, you could take just the boldface headings on this list, consider each individual based on what you know from their credentials / interview / references, and likely make an excellent choice.

Rich TIPS are most valuable when they’re conversation-starters. We’d love to know your thoughts.

1 Comment

  1. Lisa Earwood
    August 01, 2013

    This description sounded just like my Dad, a veteran of both the Korean and Vietnam wars. A career military man he modeled all of these things which have served me well in my non-profit career and life. Yes, some of these strengths can indeed be a weakness but they can be addressed when recognized for what they are. Is that not true regardless of what our strengths are?

    It has everything to do with the culture of our agencies and I appreciate that we keep coming back to that theme. I’d certainly consider the bold face headings regardless of what type of business I was running when hiring someone.

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