There have been myriad articles written about what veterans bring to the workforce, such as leadership experience, teamwork, mission focus, blah blah blah. While those topics are all important, they’re not exactly new. Not to put any of them down but if you are competing for a job with three other veterans and you all share the same aforementioned qualities, then how do you stick out?
Instead of highlighting yet another article on the typical skills that veterans bring to bear when they show up their first day in the office, below are eleven contributions veterans bring that lie below the surface of “obvious,” yet add tremendous amounts of value to workplace climate every day:
1. Sense of humor
When the going gets tough, the tough get sarcastic. I remember in Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training being on our fifth or sixth set of 50 push-ups, arms shaking as I strived to hold myself up and in complete agony, when an instructor walked into the room and yelled, “Looking good gents, looking good … not you, me!”
What this did — probably unintentionally, but nonetheless important — was teach us how to direct our attention away from the emotion (read torment) of the moment and instead redirect our focus elsewhere. Ultimately, it taught us to separate ourselves from the moment and take an objective rather than subjective perspective.
2. Cool Stories
One benefit veterans have is a laundry list of unique experiences that no one in the office can likely match.
Tell them about the time you woke up in your car in a junkyard in another state after a long night out, or perhaps what it was like to walk through an Egyptian bazaar.
Whatever stories you share, they offer a personalization, sense of awe, and interest to those who have yet to be bitten by the travel bug.
3. Presence of mind
If getting shot at didn’t ruffle your feathers, chances are that product deadlines or meeting updates won’t either. Veterans are used to working in chaos and dealing with adversity. Instead of being crippled by change, they choose to stand tall, find solutions, and keep moving.
Believe it or not, being on time apparently isn’t a natural phenomenon outside the military bubble. Veterans are used to the hurry-up-and-wait agenda the military is known for (boy, did I hate that), whereas many civilians are of the hurry-up-and-minimize-how-late-I-will-be approach.
What I mean here is that meetings in the military served a purpose (at least most of them), so one of the best contributions a veteran can bring to any formal gathering is a mindset of accountability.
5. Mission Mindset
Veterans come from a world where “me” is at the bottom of the organizational totem pole and “we” is the flavor of the day, every day. A “we” mindset is contagious because people see how you think which only broadens their awareness. Mindset is contagious. It can be toxic or liberating depending on who you are (values) and what you want to spread (character).
Many people think veterans are ticking time bombs waiting to go off because they’re now in a “different world.” Quite the contrary. Veterans have the opportunity to dispel this myth and show the general public the value that serving in the military brings; namely, an attitude of selflessness and higher purpose that drives them to achieve more every day rather than just show up.
7. Decisions, decisions
Progress only comes from a willingness to move ahead, and that willingness is a conscious choice — a decision — to do so. Veterans know that whether they want to or not, decisions must be made that are oftentimes unpopular.
8. Project Management experience
When I wrote my first resume for the job market, I wasn’t sure how to translate the initiatives I led into a description that civilian employers would value, let alone understand.
When it all boils down, veterans have a vast amount of project management experience that allows them to see the individual pieces within a greater organizational puzzle.
For example, one position I held as a Navy SEAL was serving as a team leader for a joint outpost on a forward operating base in Afghanistan. My job was to coordinate intelligence with other Department of Defense and civilian units and fuse those relationships together so that we could execute targets together.
Translating this into business-speak wasn’t easy, but under the umbrella of “project management”the challenge of managing divergent interests, personal agendas, resources, and logistics became much more apparent.
Not in the sense of how many push-ups you can do, but rather one’s ability to sustain superior performance. I believe that organizational fitness — the overall readiness and willingness of a company to execute its strategy and achieve stated objectives — comes from the summation of each and every individual who is physically, mentally, and emotionally competent enough to perform. Veterans know this. They understand the value of personal fitnessas it relates to organizational fitness, because a team is only as strong as its weakest link.
10. Idea flow
At the end of the day, diversity plays a key role in performance. In his book Out of Our Minds: Learning To Be Creative, author Ken Robinson notes how “our world views shrink as we see the same people talking about the same topics, again and again.”
Veterans bring in new perspectives that enhance idea flow (i.e. “the good idea fairy”). Without strong idea flow, innovation is limited.
With a vast amount of experience comes a vast array of relationships. The relationships formed in the military, both personal and professional, serve as huge support networks that can last forever. The amount of expertise and knowledge that is readily accessible in the military is a blessing, and being able to call upon subject matter experts for advice is yet another powerful weapon veterans bring into the workforce.
In a 1985 study at Bell Laboratories, Robert Kelley of Carnegie Mellon University investigated why some people were considered better performers than others. His findings: high performers actively sought to build relationships with subject matter experts and later tap into said expert’s knowledge base for specific tasks. In other words, a more diverse social network allowed high performers to see more moving parts and gain a better strategic view, whereas average performers tended to stay within the confines of their job own functions.
At the end of the day, veterans bring a plethora of unique experiences, insight, and mental models to the workforce that could only come from military service. Nowhere else do the same amounts of risk, decision-making, mission focus and team spirit exist. Be your best, bring your best, and opportunity will follow.