3 Things to Tell Your Managers About Managing Veteran Employees


When I train corporate teams on the business case for hiring military veterans, the conversation is typically focused on helping recruiters and human resources professionals (hiring mangers) understand the benefits and challenges veterans bring. We discuss best practices around attracting, recruiting, on boarding, and growing veteran talent within the organization.

A part of the conversation that is sometimes overlooked by companies making or growing their commitment to hire veterans is training internal departments and managers who will work alongside the veteran employee.

As more and more civilians are managing veteran employees, it is important to remember:

1. Veterans are more than their experiences

As a civilian, it is tempting to want to define someone by their experiences and training: A mechanic works on parts, a medic treats patients, and a fighter pilot flies planes in high-risk situations. Keep in mind that like any person in career transition, an individual is more than the sum of their past work experiences.

Instead of creating labels and perception around someone's past roles, consider their value and contribution going forward. A fighter pilot would have the ability to focus intently, work well under pressure, and make decisions quickly. She might also have a strong desire to help others, serve the mission and vision of the company, and mentor those who report to her.

A medic might bring a strong work ethic, patience, and an ability to work well under pressure. He might also be resilient in situations where process and tools are not available -- able to adapt quite well. To think a medic can only work in health care, in a similar role, is underappreciating the value of the experiences gained in service.

2. They might not want to be a leader

I chuckled in a transition program once when a retiring Air Force Colonel told me, "I wish people would stop assuming I want to lead in my next job. I just want to contribute and go home at night knowing I added value. I don't need to be in charge."

Leadership is a skill and character quality most veterans possess because of the nature of military service. They led troops and missions from the early days of their military life. It is not a correct assumption to believe they won't be happy in a civilian job that doesn't include management. That particular Colonel was not alone: Many veterans feel a deep need to add value and do work that is meaningful, but do not desire the responsibility and risk that comes with management.

Before assuming the veteran employee you are managing aspires to be in a leadership position, ask them. Ask about their career goals. Help to define the management and leadership opportunities in your organization, so they have a clear picture of the path. Remember that military leadership involves making life and death decisions. The management track in your company might look very different, and could be appealing to a veteran, if clearly outlined.

3. The job search process is terrifying and confusing

For most veterans retiring or separating from military service, they enter a process totally unfamiliar to them. In the military, they likely did not interview for promotions or new jobs. The military system works differently than the civilian workplace.

On boarding programs that embrace this difference and provide a safe and supportive place for veterans to learn about the job, encourage each other, and grow personally and professionally are highly successful. If your company doesn't offer a formal program for veterans, consider creating one for your department. Bring together the colleagues and staff the veteran employee will work with to do some level setting of expectations and goals. Make sure the veteran's colleagues understand (from the veteran's point of view) what this individual brings to the team. Create a space for idea sharing, questions, and camaraderie building.

A note of caution: Be sure to involve the veteran employee in the process of building a department program for veteran employees. While most are proud to highlight their military career and appreciate the effort employers make to include them in raising the standards of the organization in how they serve veterans, others do not like the spotlight and might shirk at the attention. You don't want your veteran employees to feel singled out in a negative way, so discuss your ideas with them early on in developing your effort.

The number of veterans leaving military service over the next ten years is staggering. This indicates a huge opportunity for employers seeking to hire from a unique and valuable work force. Training and including team managers in the hiring and on boarding process ensures the company's commitment to hiring veterans doesn't stop at the HR manager's door.


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