Each year, on the eleventh of November, we celebrate the service that the men and women of the United States military have given our country.
That celebration usually consists of somber-toned pieces on ESPN about Purple Heart recipients, thank yous from news anchors as we open and close their shows, and cheesy marketing campaigns set to uplifting string music (or worse, percussion only).
But what could we give veterans that’s more meaningful and practical than a “thank you” and some puff pieces once a year?
How about a job?
Everyone wants to hire veterans, but no one knows how. No one knows exactly what skills veterans actually learned when they served, no one knows how those skills translate, and no one knows how to figure it out.
I think a good start would be to reframe the conversation.
What makes a skill qualifying, and how do we measure that?
200K veterans separate or retire from the military each year. We re-enter the civilian world looking for work. Many of us are interested in work similar to what we did in the military. Many of us aren’t.
When I separated from the Air Force after four years of service as an armament systems specialist (read: I loaded bombs, missiles, and gun ammo onto fighter jets), I did not know what I was qualified to do. The job and life skills I had developed on the fightline in Texas, England, Afghanistan, Romania, Belgium, and Sweden weren’t readily apparent to me, and because they weren’t readily apparent to me, they certainly weren’t going to be readily apparent to a potential employer.
So I waited tables and tended bar while I went to film school and figured it out myself.
I got lucky. That worked for me. It doesn’t for everyone.
The lessons I learned in the service industry are also vital, but it took me longer than it should have to find steady work in the industry, and not everyone is cut out for the restaurant business. Especially military veterans used to the job security and dependability of a schedule the services provide.
Looking back, I’ve been able to reverse engineer what I learned. I discovered the value that veterans bring to their civilian employers, and it can be distilled down to three things: ambition, experience, and stability.
Fifty-Five% of military veterans want to pursue a career different than the one they had in the military, and thirty-nine% of veterans are more likely to be promoted earlier than non-veterans.
There is a common, and in my experience, dangerous myth associated with veterans. That military members simply and rigidly follow orders from the person above them in the chain of command.
This could not be farther from the truth.
Veterans operate under the concept known as decentralized command. Veterans are resilient, emotionally intelligent, and highly competent individuals who know how to operate on a team and within a chain of command. We don’t just do what we’re told. We bring strategic, systems-based thinking to bear on tactical operations.
Veterans with bachelor’s degrees have 2.9x more work experience than non-veterans, and veterans are 160% more likely to have a graduate degree or higher.
And those are just the traditional educational metrics. Veterans also went through boot camp, technical training, on-the-job training, temporary duty assignments, deployments, field training, follow-on training, and more, all while being a part of the single most diverse organization on the planet, in some of the most austere working conditions on the planet, and away from our families for extended periods of time.
Experience shouldn’t always mean industry experience. Industry can be taught. Unique experiences --and the perspectives they bring -- can’t.
Veterans remain with their first civilian company 8.3% longer than non-veterans.
Stability is where it all comes together. It’s the practical application of ambition and experience.
At our core, veterans are grateful and loyal. We’re excited to bring what we’ve learned and apply it as civilians, and most importantly, we’ve been innoculated against the stress of the workplace.
I tell my team all the time when a client is slow to respond or changes their request, or creatives are working too slowly or strategy changes last minute, “We’ll be fine. We’re not getting shot at.”
Ambition, experience, and stability are things every industry needs, but the advertising and marketing industry sorely and desperately needs military veterans -- and their perspectives -- in the rooms where it happens.
As we all seek to be more inclusive and make progress in this ever-changing environment of diversity, equity, and inclusion, veterans are ready to help lead the way.