Translating the skills of Transitioning Military- “Diamonds in the Rough”

As a recruiter, it helps to either be psychic or a very good salesperson in order to meet the demands of your customer – the hiring manager. What makes it even more difficult in presenting someone transitioning from the military, is translating the skills that they have acquired while in the service to someone that hasn’t experienced a day in the military themselves. In our previous installment, we discussed one of the major activities of the military: training. Many, who choose military service, come for the training so that they will be more marketable when they enter the civilian work force after their commitment has been met. Whether enlisted, ROTC officer, an academy graduate or through another source; many see the military as a way of acquiring skills not available elsewhere. In addition, they view the experience as seizing an opportunity to hone these skills at a much younger age than their civilian counterparts. The military has a proven method of selecting those that have the aptitude to be trained and the desire to be successful. Corporations that use pre-employment testing, find that applicants with a military background tend to score higher on these tests, making a more desirable employee. However, civilians don’t drive tanks…so how do you translate these skills to the hiring managers in your organization? The range of translatable skills runs the gamut of immediate to more of a stretch. A network technician in the military could obviously find work as a network technician for a variety of companies. However, when you look at the edge of the spectrum such as sales — what has someone in the military really sold? Or how do you translate one’s military experience to the opportunities you have to offer? Simple…don’t rely purely on a resume. Look instead at the value of what that person offered their organization in each of the positions that they have held. Look at what they have achieved. If this sounds impressive, try to meet or at least talk to the applicant before dismissing their talent purely on the basis of their resume. Remember, they can be trained! For example, a VP at Pacific Bell was presented a resume of an academy graduate who was responsible for a large portion of the logistics required to keep an aircraft carrier running smoothly. “That’s all well in good, but I don’t have an aircraft carrier; I need a sales candidate,” he exclaimed. This was before he had a chance to meet the candidate in person. Within minutes of meeting him in person, it was quite evident that this applicant was a prime sales candidate, having the people skills and determination necessary for those in sales positions. Not that many people in the military think that sales is a career choice either open to them or one that they would want. This, however, is one example where the core values, coupled with real life experiences, prepare one for a variety of tasks. A pharmaceutical district manager, who was adamant in his demand for someone with prior sales experience, was face to face with a young captain with Desert Storm experience. The captain grasped the hiring manager’s bias while in his interview and exclaimed “Sir, I had to lead a platoon of twenty-something year olds across a live mine field in the middle of the night in the heat of battle, THAT WAS SALES!” Needless to say, the young man was hired and has done well in his sales career. There is a long history of pharmaceutical companies tapping the military for top-notch sales talent resulting in one company being nicknamed “Fort Pfizer.” This is only the beginning; more companies should realize the tremendous talent ready to be tapped for some of their more difficult positions, and for a variety of industries. An initial sales position is just one way to develop one’s new career. Corporations need to have an open mind in looking at all the experience a military candidate brings to them. Companies must also assist in educating a prospective applicant to the benefits of beginning one’s career in such a manner. Seems like a lot of work, but the results are worth it. In addition to directly translatable skills and education, most military applicants bring core values such as loyalty, a high degree of personal accountability, discipline, and motivation, among others. As a recruiter, these are the traits you look for in your prospects; just don’t overlook an applicant because they haven’t worked in your industry or have the “prior experience” you desire. After finding one or two successful “military hires,” you will find yourself seeking the opportunity to find more of these “diamonds in the rough.” Military applicants possess experience in communications, information technology, technical operations, engineering, distribution/logistics and purchasing among others. However the biggest benefit of one’s military experience is the opportunity to demonstrate leadership as well as practice the team building skills so often needed in corporate organizations. Military applicants are prime prospects for your supervisory and management positions. Granted, the idea of a “SGT Carter type leading a group of middle-aged women in your production area may make you cringe, but there are all types of personalities out there. Many of today’s military leaders have studied quality management principles taught by Deming and Covey for example. Quality management in the military is not an oxymoron; it is demonstrated through “leadership by example.” You would be surprised to hear how these applicants have demonstrated that they can get the job done, under stressful conditions, with limited resources. Could you use someone like that in your organization?

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Bill Gaul (bgaul@destinygrp.com) is President and CEO of The Destiny Group, an Internet-based recruiting tool that utilizes the latest patent-pending technology (including audio/visual) for organizations to use to source men and women departing the military services. Endorsed by all of the U.S. Service Academy Alumni Associations, and three times selected as one of the "50 BEST" by CareerXRoads, this online system is the easiest and lowest cost method to reach transitioning military worldwide, without a per-head fee.

Bill's articles are Copyright 2001, The Destiny Group.

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