Salute Recruiters for Mining the Military, but the Corporate World Is a Different Battleground

By Jon Hindman

Mar. 6, 2009

It shouldn’t come as a huge shock that military officers are a sought-after group of individuals for corporate management positions.

In particular, recruitment is heavy in industries such as aerospace and defense, where assets including leadership, work ethic, commitment and even Rolodexes filled with names of key military personnel are elements to individual and corporate success.

Officers, however, are often jarred by the bumpy road they face when transitioning into civilian leadership positions. There are exceptions to every rule, but by and large, there is a certain culture shock that takes place. Recruiters and the corporations pursuing military officers need to be aware that special attention must be paid to this particular segment of job recruits.

Emily King never sugarcoats the transition from military leadership to civilian leadership with her clients. King has had more than a decade of experience working with veterans to help them—and the corporations that hire them—better understand what’s in store. Two years ago she started her own Washington-based consulting firm, King Street Associates, which has a division dedicated to military-transition coaching.

“What we’ve found is that many ex-military officers leave their first civilian job within the first three years,” King said. “They often have the misconception that since they’re being hired for their military experience, the job is going to be basically like it was in the military, just in a different venue.”

This is far from the truth, and Eric Peterson, manager, diversity and inclusion initiatives at the Society for Human Resource Management in Alexandria, Virginia, points out that an entirely different approach has to be taken when placing veteran officers in corporate positions.

“At SHRM, we really take a broad definition of diversity,” Peterson said. “It’s not simply the traditional diversity categories you might think of, but anything that makes you markedly different.”

In other words, it makes sense that much like someone with a disability requiring special needs and attention, military officers may also need particular tools and education that other job recruits would not.

“The military has a very specific culture. They break you down and build you back up as a soldier,” said Peterson, who added that it’s a difficult proposition to just leave that lifestyle behind.

Some military leaders have trouble shifting their managerial style in a corporate setting. They might bark commands or mismanage time and resources to meet a deadline because they were never instructed on how different the corporate culture is from what they’ve been accustomed to during their military careers.

King says most recruiters and corporations don’t understand how important catered training programs are to these former armed forces commanders.

“They don’t have any specialized knowledge or resources to help these leaders easily transition, understand the learning curve and become productive quickly,” King said. “They’re thrown into new-hire orientations with kids coming out of college and other new employees. But these officers have a specific set of challenges that aren’t shared by most other groups.”

King has seen a lack of patience too.

“The time that it takes for them to be productive, successful and accepted by their peers in an organization is a lot longer,” she said.

Peterson agreed, and said that not taking proactive steps to train and educate former military leaders “is almost always a recipe for failure.”

If these recruits seem too high-maintenance, King and Peterson insisted that the upfront investment pays off. While they’re highly recruited and normally paid lofty salaries, the experience, knowledge and dedication they bring to the table is often unparalleled by other employees—even other executive leaders.

Because of this, King recommended that recruiters try to better understand what the transition will be like and work with their corporate clients to develop mentoring and training programs, which could even be taught by other former military leaders. Putting more stock into the “human capital” investment is always a smart move, but almost a necessity in this case.

Peterson said companies that are able to keep these unique leaders on board ultimately will reap the benefits. And as for recruiters, he said one important piece of the puzzle is to make sure veterans, whether former officers or not, feel wanted, valued and respected.

Ultimately, he added, tapping into the military for recruiting efforts, if done correctly, can give recruiters an additional, viable pool of candidates.

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