The military teaches teamwork, resourcefulness, and a work ethic.
My brother and I are both Marine Corps veterans, and when we hire workers at our growing company, we try to hire veterans first. Military experience comes with many lessons that cannot be learned in college and are not screened for or appreciated by most civilian employers.
What has been most rewarding for our startup was realizing that military veterans are not only extremely capable and eager to excel as employees, but that there are many companies who don’t even give them a chance.
In fact, a study in 2016 found that 41% of military veteran job applicants say that hiring managers simply do not understand what kind of experiences a veteran has earned while in the military and how they transfer to a private-sector career. Thirty-seven percent believe their military experience is actually devalued by hiring managers.
We have spent the last three years seeking military veterans to help grow our metal engraving company with great success, and we have identified some unique trends among them that we have not seen in civilian new hires:
• Veterans value teamwork: It was difficult for me personally to communicate to a hiring manager with no military experience why graduating from Marine Corps sniper school made me a more qualified mechanical engineer than the kids that were in my engineering program with me who were also seeking jobs.
The average hiring manager with an MBA does not appreciate the level of teamwork that is instilled in you when you are on a weeklong training mission, sacrificing your own sleep so the guy next to you can catch up on his. The reason you do it is because it is the best thing to do for the team to be effective.
Job applications do not have a check box for “selfless dedication” or “literally unaffected by stressful environments.” These are qualities that cannot be taught in school, but are of tremendous value to your company when properly channeled.
• Veterans are unbelievably resourceful. One of our machinists, Marcus, a former infantry Marine, often entertains our staff with stories of the early days of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
He tells tales of a Marine Corps that the younger veterans at our company have trouble comprehending. Before every unit deployed to combat zones had a fleet of fully-armored trucks, he and his unit had to cut and fasten sheets of steel to their Humvee doors and windows to shield themselves from gunfire and IED blasts.
Veterans do not ever lose that sense of resourcefulness. For a young company like ours, resourcefulness is essential for survival. We ask a lot of our staff, and sometimes the right tools for the job are not in the budget just yet. Thanks to their time in the military, this is not the first time they have had to improvise to achieve a task. And unlike the last time they had to improvise, this time they aren’t also dodging bullets.
• Veterans have an unparalleled sense of camaraderie and team working skills. They are dedicated problem solvers, and they all strive to be pivotal team members.
Give a platoon of Marines a mission to accomplish and stand back to watch the machine work. You will not be disappointed. By hiring veterans, regardless of their military background, and unifying them towards a new common goal, we have been able to harness that military energy. They love to work with one another, and they take pride in their performance. There is no corporate rat race; everyone sees the mission objective and is willing to work together to get it done.
• Veterans are the best at taking constructive criticism. There is no comparison. When a veteran is underperforming, they want to know about it, and they do not care how the news is delivered. In fact, if you are dancing around the subject and trying to be nice in your delivery, they will often stop you in your tracks and ask you to be more blunt with them.
Veterans take tremendous pride in their work. They know that proficiency is always preceded by failure of some form. They want to get those failures out of the way quickly because the faster they identify the reason for failure, the faster they can become proficient.
It is clear to us now why so few companies capitalize on these qualities that are rampant among our veteran employees. Before we were hiring veterans, we too were veterans looking for work.
The transition from military to civilian is a well-known obstacle for all military members. Each service member is actually required to take formal classes to assist their shift to non-military life. You are taught how to attempt to translate your military experience into terms that civilians might understand. They explain to you that your resume will likely not make sense to the hiring manager reading it, and that you should try your best to gain more non-military experience in order to broaden your opportunities as a civilian.
As military veterans, we find it unfortunate that 47% of post-9/11 veterans say they have removed or understated their military experience on their resume or job applications. They fear that hiring managers would associate them with post-traumatic stress disorder, or the violent nature of so many fictional movie characters with military backgrounds.
As my brother and I made our own frustrating transitions to civilian life, our difficulty finding meaningful jobs ultimately led us to start our own company, and we knew just where to look for good help when we needed it.
Today, we offer a guaranteed job interview to all military veterans, and our company mission is to create skilled jobs for fellow veterans.
With 250,000 enlisted service members leaving the military each year, there is no shortage of good help in our future. Our customers love the idea of our products being manufactured in the United States by veterans, and our employees are happy to work in an environment that truly understands their experiences. They bring the same pride and passion to work every day that they brought to serving their country.
The best way to learn how to harness the great power of veteran employees is to welcome them in for an interview, learn about their unique experiences, and be open minded about how a well-rounded workforce can improve your company.
Chet Peters is a mechanical engineer, entrepreneur, and former Marine Corps sniper. He and his brother, Dana Peters, are cofounders of Milspin: The American Metal Co., in Columbus, Ohio
This opinion piece was originally published to MarketWatch on March 12th, 2019