Most employers look for the same traits and skills when vetting prospective candidates: leader, team player, quick learner, and so on. Military members consistently have all those traits and more.
And every year, hundreds of thousands of service members across the world return to civilian life. Ready to bring their unmatchable skills to local small businesses (SMB). And small businesses are standing at attention, ready to hire them.
In fact, when Veteran Affairs surveyed 245 American businesses, almost all of them had at least one veteran on staff. And 2 out of 3 actively strategized how they’d retain and advance veterans within the company once they were hired because they’re some of their best hires.
That’s because veterans are:
1. Strong leaders
By “leader,” I mean someone who provides purpose, direction, and motivation to their team. And service members are molded to lead in this way through hundreds of hours of training, education, and hands-on experience.
As a result, members of the armed forces tend to thrive in leadership positions. In fact, business leaders who served work at companies longer and see higher than average returns, per a Korn Ferry International study.
That’s because military leadership is based on the concept of duty, service, and self-sacrifice. Meaning, veterans were taught to place the needs of others before themselves and direct teams toward larger goals.
In fact, a University of Illinois study found that service leadership practices cut turnover in half. It also improved their team’s job performance by 6% and increased customer satisfaction by 8%.
But veterans with “manager” and “director” titles aren’t the only ones who will bring this kind of leadership to your team. Vets with entry-level civilian positions will too.
That’s because even if a veteran doesn’t directly lead other team members, they can still lead by example alongside them. When someone struggles to meet a deadline and needs some extra help, it’s ingrained in veterans to step in. And this mentality to help, however possible, is perhaps the most contagious quality of a leader.
2. Dedicated team players
Per Harvard Business Review, the one thing the most successful teams have in common is effective collaboration. And that makes sense. Businesses only grow when knowledge is documented, so anyone can step in wherever the team needs them.
And individuals who serve operate with a base instinct to jump in where needed. That’s because the armed forces operate with values centered around collaboration. For example, the US Air Force values “integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all [they] do.” Meaning, the team comes first.
And after years of living by these values, they’re deeply ingrained into who these individuals are. And that doesn’t stop when they retire from the armed forces and onboard at your company. As the US Army puts it, “[values of selfless service, honor, and integrity] are not just what we do, they are who we are.”
The first step in creating a culture of teamwork is hiring people who will get the ball rolling in this area. And a veteran hire will be your best bet in finding a genuine team player.
3. Wicked fast learners
It’s impossible to tell if someone is a quick learner after only a few interviews. And as a small business owner, you don’t have time to hold anyone’s hand if they’re not.
Nope – you need someone who can take a project and run with it, all on their own. And when you hire a veteran, you get discipline and self-sufficiency (the foundation of a fast learner).
Think of it this way – when a civilian enlists, they go through up to 13 weeks of extremely intense military training. During this time, military folks experience what I can only describe as a mental and physical transformation.
They are allowed little sleep and food. They’re challenged to overcome internal challenges and external obstacles alongside other recruits. And they have to sink or swim (sometimes literally).
Any veteran you hire will have successfully found the determination to push through and overcome the challenges of this training program. But this skill or quality doesn’t just go away after basic training. And it’s not something you can teach in a university classroom or day-long training session.
Because of this unique experience, most employers say that their veteran workers perform “better than” or “much better than” their non-veteran peers once hired.
The right training is important
Of course, onboarding quality is a huge factor in new employee success (veteran or not). According to G2, half of the new employees who didn’t hit their first performance goals did not have a formal onboarding process. And that falls on the company – not the employee.
Military members have learned how to work. Their dedication to producing quality work makes them prime candidates for any civilian role. All you have to do is teach them how to do this job.
4. Good at following protocols
If you’re like most business leaders, you can’t wait for the day when you don’t feel like you’re doing it all. And that starts with delegating as much as you can off your plate.
What stops most folks from actually doing this, though, is the possibility that your team won’t do the task right. And that’s totally fair – only 39% of processes are actually followed by employees worldwide. Meaning, lots of people are doing their jobs all wrong.
We’re sure there are thousands of excuses why this is, but there’s only one two-step solution. You need to:
Military members are those people. The ones who will respect and actually follow your company’s protocols. And as a result, make your workplace safer, make your operations less expensive, and make sure your doors stay open.
That’s because, while deployed, veterans followed strict procedures, no questions asked.
What about innovation?
You might be worrying that hiring military members might cut off innovation because they follow the rules too much. Or that they don’t have the assertiveness to challenge the status quo.
But veterans also come with strong gut judgments and the autonomy to make the right “off-the-book” calls when necessary. For example, if a Colonel was asked to lead a mission, they’d be expected to strictly follow protocols to execute.
But they would still have several decisions related to how to go about those orders. Such as: what is the best and safest way to go about it? And a lot of considerations go into the decision, especially when direct orders lead them into uncharted territory.
Similarly, every decision your business makes needs to be by the book and consider the current circumstances. Veterans will not only get you across the finish line but do it with good judgment when things don’t go as planned.
👉 Not sure where to start documenting your processes? We built a free resource that breaks down why process documentation matters and how to do it. Get the free resource.
5. Excellent communicators
As I mentioned earlier, you want people on your team who are comfortable collaborating. But part of that is getting someone who can communicate effectively with their team members and customers alike.
And veterans are well accustomed to doing exactly that. That’s because military life trains members to communicate respectfully and effectively to anyone and everyone. This includes high-ranking officials, fellow service members, and civilians with diverse backgrounds.
In basic training, recruits are taught how to effectively communicate with each other to accomplish team missions. Similar to following protocols, these exercises prepare them for combat situations where teamwork can literally mean the difference between life and death.
In small businesses, strong communication might not mean life or death. But it’s still crucial. That’s because it can increase productivity, prevent mistakes, and resolve workplace issues when done right. And lead to lost revenue, employee conflict, and a hostile work environment if done wrong.
Vets will one-up your other candidates here with such diverse interactions under their belts. And you can trust them to carry their collaboration experience over to your team.
That’s because you can safely say veterans know what they’re doing. And trust them to effectively explain where projects are at, so everyone’s aligned.
Those with technology, software, and analytics skills are in high demand. In fact, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that computer and information technology occupations will grow 13% from 2020 to 2030.
And veterans are 5 to 6x more likely to possess the technical skills needed by the fastest-growing industries.
Service members often have rare experience with tech via intelligence analysis tools, cybersecurity operations, and more. And they are exposed to advanced tech training at an accelerated pace.
Vets are well-suited for a transition into the tech world. Or even applying tech knowledge to solve challenges all SMBs face. Like integrating platforms, data recovery, security defense, and tech education.
7. Embrace DEI initiatives
Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) have become some of today’s hottest buzzwords in business. But the business case for DEI is stronger than ever.
A 2019 McKinsey report found that the relationship between diversity on executive teams and the likelihood of profitability is continuing to strengthen over time. The most recent data shows that companies in the fourth quartile for gender and ethnic diversity were 27% more likely to underperform profitability.
When you have a team that’s not afraid to come to work and be themselves as they lead and contribute, you’ll see engagement, productivity, and innovation that leads to the best ideas.
For example, you might also have partners and customers with different backgrounds: ethnic, racial, national, educational, and so on. And you need someone who can easily interact with those who are different from them.
This means hiring folks from all walks of life who actively support diversity and encourage inclusivity. And veterans, many of whom have years living abroad, this is a given.
While deployed, military members are put in situations where they’re forced to effectively communicate and collaborate with people with backgrounds unlike their own. And they’re trained to detect and respond appropriately to bias – both conscious and unconscious.
In recent years, armed force commanders also started getting training on promoting diversity and inclusion in their troops. This training teaches invaluable skills like how to guide discussions on discrimination, prejudice, and bias.
As a result, people with military backgrounds tend to be more culturally sensitive than those who haven’t served. And they’re considered “highly accepting” of individual differences in a workplace setting.
So, what is all this to say?
Self-sufficient. Reliable. Skilled. Respectful. These are just some of the words that can describe every veteran worldwide.
So, if you’re looking for a great candidate, it’s time to take advantage of the large pool of vets looking for civilian jobs. That’s because there’s no better persona to provide teamwork, integrity, and perseverance to your small business.