Category Archives: Finances

How to Mine Veterans to Find the Best Employees

2 Problems Solved by Hiring Military People

3 minutes to read

(NOTE: This is part of a series of articles for civilians who want to help veterans transition better. If you’re current or former military, pass this on to a civilian friend.)

Unemployment is at its lowest rate in ten years. So you’d think it would be easy to find a job. Yet veterans and civilians struggle despite 7.1 million openings. What gives? Many business owners, economists, and government officials agree a skills gap hampers hiring. Economist James Bessen wrote the most lucid explanation I’ve found. He identifies two problems: 1. Finding people with certain specific skill sets and 2. Recruiting employees who can adapt their skills at the pace of industry change. Both describe military people.

How to Mine Veterans to Find the Best Employees

The Military Trains in Adaptability

Take the second issue first. Have you seen the movie, Heartbreak Ridge? Clint Eastwood inculcates his Marines with the ethos of “Improvise, Adapt, Overcome.” The Marine Corps embeds these values in its people.

I saw it in action when my air wing deployed. Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 323, the legendary Death Rattlers, had some of the oldest fighter jets in the fleet. Yet ingenuity and tenacity maintaining their planes kept them flying as much as those of squadrons with much newer equipment.

And I’ve seen Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen as resourceful as Marines. With today’s undermanned units and equipment older than maintenance crews, you have to be creative to get the job done.

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Veterans don't think to mention this skill. It’s so much a part of them it would be like saying they know how to breathe. And you don't see it in information on veterans, such as this summary by the VA. Not every veteran has it in equal amounts. But if you ask about their experience, you’ll soon find the level of their adaptability.

The Basics of Military Personnel Structure

With resourcefulness a given, you need to find military people with specific skill sets you need. Here’s the challenge. Many veterans don't know how to translate their military training and experience into language civilians understand. But if you make a small investment in learning the military personnel system, you can use terminology they know.

Consider that veterans have little or no experience finding a civilian job. They don't know the process, language, or how to market themselves. The people who train them in such skills mean well. But they don't have much job-hunting experience either.

If you have a growing business, you need to expand your workforce on a regular basis. So it makes sense to have one or two people at your company learn the military personnel structure. Then they can find quality employees with your required skills sets among the many resourceful veterans looking for work.

I’ll explain the basic structure here. Then, over the next few weeks, I’ll deal with:

  • How pay grade relates to education, experience, and leadership ability.
  • Military job codes and how you can use them to unearth the skills you need.
  • Questions you can ask veterans to help them uncover their true abilities.

There are three categories of personnel or pay grades in the military:

Enlisted people (E1 through E9 pay grades). Technical skill and leadership ability increase with pay grade. They break down into three groups, though variations exist among the service branches:

  1. Junior Enlisted (E1 through E3). Rank and file employees, such as technicians, mechanics, and analysts.
  2. Non-Commissioned Officers - NCOs (E4 through E6). High skills level and first level supervision, such as team leaders.
  3. Senior or Staff Non-Commissioned Officers - SNCOs (E7 through E9). Skill mastery and leadership from managers to lower level C-Suite capability.

Warrant Officers (W1 through W5 pay grades). Combine the expertise and training ability of SNCOs with the operational leadership of commissioned officers.

Commissioned Officers (O1 through O10 pay grades). Leadership ability and command authority increase with pay grade. They break down into two broad categories and three levels. The categories are:

  1. Line Officers. Exercise command authority.
  2. Staff officers. Professionals, such as lawyers, doctors, and chaplains who advise commanders.

The three levels are:

  1. Junior Officers (O1 through O3). Tactical and small unit leadership, equal to mid level management to lower level C-Suite.
  2. Senior Officers (O4 through O6). Operational and administrative unit leadership, equal to mid to senior C-Suite level.
  3. General and Flag Officers (O7 through O10). Generals and admirals who form the uniformed senior leadership of each service branch. Equal to senior C-Suite executives and directors.

Like with any organization, abilities vary based on the individual. But with this basic structure in mind, you can begin to target the skill and leadership level you need.

What is the biggest hiring problem you face?

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How to Improve Your Company by Hiring Veterans

25 Benefits Military People Bring to the Table

2-½ minutes to read

(NOTE: I wrote this for civilians who want to help veterans transition better. If you’re current or former military, pass this on to a civilian friend.)

You want to help veterans make a smoother transition to civilian life. But you don't know any or know just a handful. You’d like to make an impact. But you’ve got your job and family responsibilities. So it can't be a full-time endeavor. Everyone is so busy these days. What can you do that has a limited time commitment?

How to Improve Your Company by Hiring Veterans

A Quick Assessment of Your Knowledge

Last week I mentioned three things you can do to shrink the military-civilian divide:

  1. Understand military culture.
  2. Identify the benefits of hiring veterans.
  3. Use the military personnel structure.

Start by assessing what you know about the military and its culture. If your knowledge comes from movies and television it’s not accurate. Take this online course on the basics of military structure and culture. It takes about 20 to 30 minutes to complete. Though it’s geared to mental health professionals, you’ll find it useful. Ninety-five percent of what it covers applies to anyone who wants to know more about the military.

Having figured out what you know, you can fill in the gaps. Check out these resources for learning military language and service specific values:

Summary of core value for each service branch

List of military terms and acronyms

Military lingo

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After an hour or two, you’ll be better prepared to understand military people. Keep the terms and lingo cheat sheets on your cell phone for easy access.

Qualities and Soft Skills

Now that you can communicate with veterans better, you’re ready to take the next step. To help military people find the right job, determine how they can help an organization. Start by the learning how military training and service benefits them. Not every service member gains these 20 qualities and skills. But by and large, you’ll find a high correlation between the list and what they bring to the table as prospective employees.

Other benefits of employing military people are:

  1. Mission-Focused. No organization is more mission-focused than the military. Service members learn to keep that end goal in sight. Hence they exercise creativity when bureaucracy makes reaching it more difficult.
  2. Respect Policies & Procedures. Military people know how to work within policies, even when they disagree with them. They find ways to finesse them from time to time. But they won't violate them, especially when they understand their rationale.
  3. Intuitive. Much of military training inculcates the ability to respond with little thought. Intuition takes over. Given the speed of commerce, such a skill has great value to a company.
  4. Candor. Hidden problems in the military cost lives and valuable equipment. When something is wrong, service members learn to speak up. They’re direct but respectful. In the private sector, such candor can be off putting. Veterans need to tone it down. At the same time, organizations have to get such input to survive.
  5. Leadership. Even junior enlisted people have leadership ability. Especially if they were in a community like aviation or submarines. On an aircraft carrier, an 18-year-old plane captain decides whether a $50 million airplane leaves the deck. It doesn't matter that the pilot outranks him.

These qualities and soft skills enhance technical proficiency and experience. Don't rely on a resume. Often service members struggle to capture their skills and experience on paper. Ferret out their qualifications using these lists.

You may choose not to use the military personnel structure to find the hard skills you need. Even so, knowing the benefits military people bring to an employer can help you find the ones that best fit into your organization. In doing so, you can substantially improve the quality of your hires.

How have you helped veterans transition?

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Want Greater Success? Learn to Tolerate More of This…

What You Want Lies Beyond a Wall of Boredom

2-½ minutes to read

The military holds the promise of an exciting life. If you haven’t seen the latest recruiting commercials take a look. Think of the adrenaline rush from jumping off that airplane. Is there any chance you’ll find being a Marine boring? Both of these pale in comparison to Special Forces. There’s never a dull moment in the military. Yeah, right. If General Military Training doesn’t put you to sleep paperwork will. But hey, it’s the government. You have to expect tedium. The private sector is different.

Want Greater Success? Learn to Tolerate More of This…

The Two Types of Boredom

Growing up not far from Hollywood, the excitement of making movies enthralled me. I had to be a part of it. In the late 1980s, I got my chance. My friend needed a producer for his next project. Count me in!

It didn't take long for reality to hit. Decorating the set. Focusing the lights. Practicing camera movements. Rehearsing the actors. Often it took several hours to set up a shot that took less than a minute to film. As the producer, I had to keep people from getting bored and mischievous to protect my investment.

Since then, I joke about the “glamour” of the film business. Don't get me wrong. Premieres are exciting. But such moments punctuate long periods of tedium.

Of course, it's nothing like the boredom of cold calling. The difference between film production and sales highlights the two types of boredom.

  • Passive Boredom – Sitting around with nothing to do.
  • Active Boredom – Repetitive tasks that aren't exciting.
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Most people can tolerate the first type. You may have trouble relaxing. Still, if your job requires stretches of getting paid to do nothing you can adapt.

How to Overcome Boredom

Active boredom is another story. Having to do dull, repetitive tasks saps most people’s endurance. But you can’t reach a goal without them.

About a month ago I had to start doing abdominal work again. My stomach has gotten too flabby. It is soooooo boring doing crunches and leg lifts. I tried listening to upbeat music while exercising. It didn't help. I had to set an ironclad goal and accept the tedium.

Many job-hunting tasks are boring. Always reaching out to your contacts. Writing lots of thank you notes. Practicing your elevator pitch and what you’ll say in a meeting to get a job. All these can tax your patience. I can understand why you just want the thrill of getting the job. But these boring tasks are what will make that happen.

It won't be different on the job. You’ll have exciting moments. But you’ll spend most of your time on routine work. Yet that’s where you’ll make your biggest impact. Great ideas are a dime a dozen. Execution is what matters. That means doing and keeping track of dozens of small, everyday tasks.

Now you can see why it’s important to have a mission and objectives. You need to work in a field you love. If not, it’s too easy to stop doing the boring tasks that take you to your goal.

Don’t let slick videos seduce you into thinking success and excitement go together. If you want to succeed, prepare to buckle down and power through boredom.

What did you do in the military to keep working toward boring goals?

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3 Reasons Companies Find It Difficult to Hire Veterans

How to Bridge the Military-Civilian Divide

2-½ minutes to read

Imagine upon leaving active duty you go live in China. Only 0.75% of people there speak English. You’d expect some communication problems. You wouldn’t dive into writing your resume. First, you’d learn some basic Chinese so you could speak to hiring managers. Next, you’d gain some cultural knowledge to help people get more comfortable with you. Well, China isn’t the only place where less than 1% of people understand you.

3 Reasons Companies Find It Difficult to Hire Veterans

Most Civilians Don't Know the Real Military

Let’s be honest for a moment. Before joining the military, did you know what a 12Y, 0261, AG, or 3E5X1 did? Even now are you aware they all have similar expertise? Telling a private sector hiring manager their skills relate to Geographic Information Systems won't do much. Proficiency and accomplishments vary by years of service, pay grade, and specific jobs.

A company’s HR people and hiring managers have, at best, a rudimentary understanding of the military’s personnel structure. With five different service branches using five different systems, the complexity becomes overwhelming. Unless a company hires a lot of veterans, it may not feel it can justify the investment to become proficient.

As well, you know the statistics. At any given time, less than 1% of the American population serves in the armed forces. After several rounds of BRAC, the number of bases has shrunk by about 25%. So locations where civilians interact with service members have decreased. Where can private sector hiring managers learn anything significant about the military?

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Most of what civilians know comes from television and movies. How realistic are their impressions of the military?

Take the Time to Educate Hiring Managers

Other issues hamper private sector companies’ inclination to hire veterans. Much of the publicity about the military revolves around combat deployments. So people think most of us were trigger pullers. They know other jobs like pilot and tank commander exist. But their image of us comes down to a disciplined, fit soldier carrying an M-16. They find it hard to imagine how such a person fits into their business.

They also think most veterans have PTSD. Never mind that a similar percentage of civilians suffer from it. Some people fear veterans will exhibit violent behavior. But the majority doesn't know what it means. Like most of us, they hesitate to act when there are things they don’t understand. The message hasn't gotten out that among even those who do have PTSD, most function fine.

Seventy years ago, at the end of World War II, it seems like veterans had it easy. Eight to ten percent of Americans had been in uniform. Almost everyone knew someone in the service. And, private sector business was not as complex as it is today.

But our forebears had their challenges. People making good wages were afraid competition would reduce their pay. Many civilians didn't like the special treatment given by the GI Bill. Others wanted to forget the war.

In a way, transitioning to civilian life has always been like moving to a foreign country. Get fluent explaining your Unique Value Proposition to people who don't speak your language. Prepare to educate your fellow citizens about the military. Be proactive, but subtle, in helping people handle their concerns or fears.

Never doubt that private sector companies want and need you. They just need some help understanding you.

Where else do private sector hiring managers need educating?

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How to Make Sure You’re Satisfied with Your Job

The Secret to Professional Development in the Private Sector…

2 minutes to read

Advancement in the military was a straightforward process. You knew the career markers: schools, qualifications, exams, and key billets. Some jobs had less upward mobility. Usually, that was because they didn’t need more people in the senior ranks. But where opportunity existed, for the most part, you were on equal footing with everyone else. If only the private sector worked the same way.

How to Make Sure You’re Satisfied with Your Job

The Obscure Process of Career Advancement

Compared to the military, civilian organizations have a mysterious path to promotion. Often the criteria for advancing aren’t clear. You may not even know who can promote you. Coming from the military’s up or out atmosphere, it’s frustrating for your future prospects to be so cloudy.

Besides, private sector organizations and the military are competitive in different ways. Your success in the military came from being the best team player. Camaraderie meant your colleagues were genuinely happy when you advanced. Sure, there were backstabbers. But such people were rare.

In civilian life, people tend to focus on one-on-one competition. It’s much more of a zero-sum game. Companies pit their employees one against the other to get a promotion. Even when there’s no monkey business, it stills feels underhanded.

It might not be so bad if it weren’t for one thing.

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Professional advancement has a big impact on job satisfaction. Succeeding means learning to play the game while holding on to your integrity.

Get a Sponsor Not a Mentor

Research from the Center for Talent Innovation uncovered the key. Veterans lack sponsors. Transition specialists encourage you to find a mentor. Some suggest getting several. A sponsor goes beyond a mentor.

A mentor can offer you:

  • A sounding board
  • Advice
  • Perspective
  • Referral to resources

A sponsor goes further by:

  • Coaching your professional development
  • Defending you against naysayers
  • Advocating for you to senior leaders, especially behind closed doors

When they have a sponsor, 23% of male and 19% of female veterans have greater satisfaction with their job progression. They’re less likely to feel management overlooks their skills. This applies especially to soft skills like team building and transparent decision-making.

Also, they’re less likely to get penalized for exhibiting military behavior that’s misinterpreted. What we see as a straightforward approach can strike civilians as abrupt or harsh. A sponsor helps adjust communication style while mitigating any damage done.

My free guide, The Only Five Steps You Need to Take to Get High-Paying Job, explains the importance of relationships. But using them to get a job is just the beginning. You need to keep building new ones.

Look for a sponsor who:

  1. Has solid influence with senior leadership in your company.
  2. Will be direct in giving you feedback and coaching you to improve.
  3. Will advance your career by mitigating the damage done by your mistakes and highlighting your accomplishments.

You don't need to be young to be a protégé. Finding a sponsor is your first step toward success at a company. It also will help build a foundation on which your job satisfaction rests.

Do you have a sponsor at your company?

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