Hollywood often portrays the U.S. military as G.I. Joe's with big guns, fast helicopters, and night vision goggles. But while films like Zero Dark Thirty and even Top Gun are praiseworthy for their story telling and entertainment value, they don't give the general public much insight into what life is really like for most of us in the military.
Don’t get me wrong, it feels pretty good when people assume you’re a hero just because you put on the uniform. As an Air Force veteran, I am asked if I've ever flown a fighter jet more than you might think. But the fast flying life of a fighter pilot is far from my reality. And the popular association with Goose or Maverick does little to convey the actual skills and abilities I have.
With this frequent divide between fact and fiction about military service, it can be difficult to identify the tangible benefits veterans can bring to the civilian workforce. Recruiters, coworkers and managers are mostly unfamiliar with the veteran experience, so we must find a way to tell a compelling story that resonates with a non-military audience.
So what business skills do veterans bring to the table, and what value can we contribute to an organization? Based on my experience with veteran talent at school, civilian work, career mentorship to fellow military reservists and my volunteer work, here's my take.
While attending Columbia University's School of General Studies (GS) as a student veteran, I had the good fortune of being involved with the Columbia Military Veterans Organization. Weekly meetings were rife with camaraderie between members from the different branches of the service. Some had served as Marines for one or two tours in Iraq. Others had been Army Green Berets in Afghanistan. Some had provided humanitarian support in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake the destroyed much of the country.
All had incredible stories about travel and adventure, friendship and team building, and putting service before self.
These stories continue to inspire me every time I have the privilege of meeting a group of veterans.
To me, business is about great story telling. Good story telling allows companies to form connections between the brand and their audience and customers, and even among employees. I think that’s why some of the greatest story telling GS graduates, like Air Force veteran Rich Baldassari, have been gone on to some of the greatest story telling companies, like Google.
Jobs today are increasingly reliant on technology to automate processes and get more done with less. As a result, one key to success in today's workforce is the ability to adapt to new tools quickly. In the military, most jobs rely on technology to accomplish the mission. In my time in the military, I've had to learn Google Earth, the Adobe Creative Suite, and a completely foreign (non-Windows based) GOTS database.
Ask anyone in military finance, intelligence, or even the boots on the ground infantrymen whose vehicles and equipment are more connected to technology and network infrastructure than ever, and they'll tell a similar story: Veterans are well accustomed to mastering the technical skills needed to get the job done.
Courage Under Fire
Business gets stressful at times. Maybe a big project has gone completely wrong. Maybe a team is running up against a difficult deadline with complex logistical hurdles. Or maybe there's been an unexpected change in leadership.
Veterans are well adapted for these challenges, as most probably dealt with similiar scenarios in the military. Add to that the deployment experience many have during which they had to cope with unpredictable stresses on a daily basis, from rocket attacks to failed internet connections while calling home on Skype.
In my experience, veterans are tremendously resilient, capable of performing with poise and discipline in pressure packed situations.
Leadership is often described as the ability to influence others to do something they wouldn't ordinarily do on their own. Exposure to leadership opportunities in many civilian organizations only happens after a few years of steady project experience. But the military tests and forges leadership qualities among new recruits from day one. Through ongoing training, military members are groomed in skills such as team building, public speaking, planning and decision making, and project management.
If we can continue to develop and communicate advanced leadership skills among transitioning service members, I have no doubt that many of tomorrow's CEOs will grow out of today's Post 9/11 veteran populace.
Fortunately, there are programs that are working to do just that, like FourBlock and other veteran career readiness programs like Got Your Six, American Corporate Partners and Vets in Tech build highly marketable job search skills to help bridge the gap between the standard language and experience on a civilian resume with the often unusual sounding acronyms we military members take for granted.
How to Help
I’ve been personally helped by more than one of the organizations listed above, all of which operate largely on donated funds. These are causes worth supporting, if you happen to be looking for a charity to support.
American business desperately needs story tellers, leaders, technical skills, and men and women who will execute with courage under fire.
So if you’re in a position contribute, please consider a donation of time, talent, or money to a veteran service organization focused on transitioning military service members.