Ben Faw, a combat veteran and former Army Captain, shares his thoughts on how prior members of the military can use their unique skill sets to battle the dangerously high young-veteran unemployment rate of 21.4%.
Rank never equaled respect in the military, and neither will your title in the private sector
Pinning the 2nd Lieutenant bar on my beret and shoulders as a junior Army officer following graduation from West Point was an incredible moment. However, I already knew any true respect from my subordinates would be earned through actions and care for their needs, not through the rank shown on my uniform. The same principles apply in business. As Theodore Roosevelt once said, "No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care."
In my own case, helping my Soldier's clean bathrooms when they were exhausted from the sweltering heat in Iraq earned more respect than any rank or position ever would. Post military, my experiences in private companies and academic environments have shown this same principle at work. Serving others as a leader has translated into far more credibility and respect than flaunting position, rank, or past accomplishments.
The "Right time, right place, right uniform" still makes a difference
While the peer from the private sector might know Excel modeling and financial statements far better than a veteran, the self-discipline practiced in the military is rarely ingrained as deeply in people from other backgrounds. Malcolm Gladwell writes about the 10,000 hours it takes to become an expert in something; after the first few years of service, many veterans have already completed the 10,000 hours in self-discipline training.
Whether you are going to a platoon meeting or the corporate board room, arriving a few minutes early dressed in the right attire goes a long way in building trust, credibility, and authority. I can still clearly remember an occasion when I was late in Basic Officer Training, and I was the patrol leader for the mission! That terrible feeling in my stomach after my commander woke me up late at 5AM is something I will never let happen again.
Fitness, health, and wellness create an edge
Those early morning physical training sessions five days a week in the military were not a waste. Instead, they built a habit and character trait that now becomes an advantage. Maintaining this fitness routine post-military provides more than just a healthy feeling; recent research indicates it may lead to higher wages as well.
Even if your health and wellness never directly impacts wages, the self-discipline and work ethic can shine through to potential employers in a positive way. Practicing healthy living can also help reduce stress and build the resilience and stamina needed for the challenges of the future. With long winding and ambiguous career paths for many in today's workforce, every reasonable way to reduce stress is useful!
Be willing to serve based on the job, not the location
As you can see in the interactive image, veterans tend to take jobs all over the country after business school. This should not come as a huge surprise. In their military careers, veterans have been deployed in locations far off the beaten path, and continuing on this same trend of serving based on the job - and not on the location - is nothing new for them. While it can be neat to live in an energetic city, if you dislike the job itself or the company culture, it is not the right choice for you. Instead, focus on finding something that you love, regardless of location, and you will always do your best work.
Leadership is incredibly transferable
While the functional training received in the military is not always transferable to the private sector, the leadership skills are. When I started my military service, I learned how to follow. As a freshman at West Point, I witnessed my first Platoon Sergeant earn incredible respect by participating alongside the unit in every event, even when he had no obligation to do so. In that same training cycle, another unit leader constantly did the minimum required and lost credibility.
When I was eventually given responsibility for subordinates, I made sure I set the example through participation and devotion to duty. In one of my first civilian jobs at Tesla Motors, learning by following again helped me build the skills to lead that I would eventually use when I earned more responsibility within the company. Whether you are leading a military unit into harm's way or guiding a team though the due diligence process for an investment, many of the same skills apply: communicating and listening to others, leading by example, and treating all parties with respect. These skills were essential in the military, and they are still incredibly important in the private sector.
A special thanks to Matthew Faw, Momchil Filev, Julia Yoo,and Walter Haas: You have each been wonderful editors in this writing process and more importantly dear friends, thanks for everything.
Ben Faw is a West Point graduate, Class of 2007, a former Infantry Platoon leader, and a graduate of Airborne and Ranger School.