It you peruse online job descriptions, you’ll often find terms like “highly organized, team player, adaptable, strong leadership skills, ability to solve complex problems, learn quickly and prioritize” on nearly every list of preferred qualifications.
It seems a more concise way to summarize these qualities might be “military skills suite.” While direct experience in the military isn’t required to obtain these skills, it’s highly likely most veterans possess these coveted qualities.
Unfortunately, it’s tough for Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) to measure these essential transferable skills, so many military switchers get weeded out because they don’t possess the right key words to make it beyond the machines. And although I highly recommend that transitioning veterans “civilianize” their resumes to help with this hurdle, it still takes effort for a civilian hiring manager to understand where a soldier will best fit into the corporate structure.
Fortunately, organizations have begun to rectify this disconnect by implementing dedicated military recruiting teams, and tools like Google’s MOS translator are enabling job seekers to better understand how their military skills fit with current civilian openings.
We’ve made progress, but there is still work to do to advance this movement. Here are five core skills transitioning military personnel possess and how your business will benefit from making a greater effort to hire from this talented pool:
1) Resourcefulness: In most missions undertaken by military personnel, failure is not an option. In fact, many times defeat can cause costly consequences and even loss of life, so there is an inherent motivation to figure out how to complete a project and meet goals. Why this is core to your business: Even with meticulous preparation and planning, markets shift, customers reconsider, problems emerge and technology crashes. Being able to anticipate, refocus on the goal and pivot in the moment is a skill that all employees will need to be effective in the future of work.
2) Honor: Trust is key in relationships, which drive business results. Military personnel respect the rules and follow through. They are dependable because their responsibility in a mission is something that everyone on the team is counting on. They show up on time and ready for action, without excuses or complaints. Why this is core to your business: One of the most time consuming tasks a supervisor has is worrying about an unreliable employee. The mental effort required to create contingencies and deal with this behavior, especially when it impacts customers or fellow team members, leads to a drop in productivity across the board.
3) Calm under pressure: Most soldiers have been placed into intense environments, handling complex problems, incredibly expensive equipment and highly ambiguous situations early in their careers. Like many, they may have fears, but they engage courage to face those fears and execute despite adversity. In a difficult challenge, you won’t hear excuses, you’ll see action. Why this is core to your business: Crises happen and while sometimes unavoidable, the steps that are taken immediately will directly impact the severity of the fallout. If you find yourself in this precarious situation, you’ll want to be surrounded by individuals who rise to the challenge.
4) Collaboration: Teamwork is essential in the military and can save lives. It’s not about the self or ego, but rather about the mission and the team. Self-serving ideas have no place in the armed forces and military members hold up their end of the bargain, cooperating with individuals from diverse cultures and with differing ideas without complaint or expectation. Why this is core to your business: It’s rare to solve complex problems, create innovative products or build pathways to the future without diversity of input, an ability to partner and a willingness to surrender ego.
5) Lifelong learning: The market is changing at warp speed and if your employees can’t adapt to shifts quickly, they’ll soon be irrelevant. In the military, complex tasks must be mastered rapidly and often independently, including a variety of technology solutions. Why this is core to your business: Change is constant, contingencies are necessary and the future is unpredictable. Employees who can operate effectively in ambiguity and proactively acquire the skills they need to get the job done are likely the ones who will make the biggest impact on your bottom line.
Making a career switch of any kind, including from a military to a civilian role, requires investment from the individual to rebrand their skills to speak the language used by the target audience. Investing in this, plus engaging your network and understanding the market will help immensely as you embark on a career shift.
However, employers must invest as well, especially as new industries emerge and the war for competent talent grows. Switchers are the future of work and will soon become the norm. So, if you don’t learn how to effectively source, hire and onboard this population, you’ll find it increasingly difficult to attract great employees.
If you want your business to thrive, it’s time to let go of these outdated beliefs:
- Titles = Competence. Have you ever noticed how many resume writers exist on LinkedIn? Creating a compelling and attention-grabbing document is a thriving business. In the same way your company likely hires a marketing team to attract new customers, job seekers work hard to present skills that will lead to getting hired. Just because a professional has 10 years of sales experience doesn’t make them a competent salesperson or someone capable of selling the product your company makes. Digging beneath the titles, buzzwords and fancy degrees can take extra time and effort, but it beats having to re-hire someone else in a year.
- Ideal candidates exist. Although most hiring managers agree the ideal candidate (aka, purple squirrel) is unlikely, you wouldn’t think so based on the dissertation-length list of requirements posted on open roles. It seems even entry-level jobs require three years of experience. Plus, the acronyms and jargon are unintelligible to those outside of the company and every job prefers deep technology expertise and data analysis in addition to the core SME (subject matter expert) qualifications that may be completely unrelated to either. This can: 1) scare qualified candidates away from applying, and 2) bias your applicant pool toward a certain demographic thereby limiting diversity. Even if an employer understands this is just a wish list, job seekers often take a job description at face value.
- ATS deliver the best. As with any machine, the quality of output obtained is only as good as the quality of programming. While I’ll be the first to agree that in many companies the recruiting team has more open reqs than any one person can handle, this only creates more reliance on technology. Yes, it’s true research has shown that both man and machine have an unreliable success rate in hiring, but tight budgets and a lack of investment in sourcing a diverse talent pool doesn’t help. In reality, much more funding would need to be funneled into the hiring process for most companies to solve this problem. In the meantime, HR is doing the best they can engaging quick and dirty solutions which reduce the number of applicants that make it to the review process, leaving a great deal up to luck.
So, if you’re an employer on the receiving end of a military resume with terminology that is unfamiliar or equipment you’ve not heard of, invest more than the industry standard of 10 seconds to look a little deeper. You may just discover this is just the candidate your team needs.