Here's What Veterans Want in Their Civilian Careers

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US Marine Soldier Coming Home
By Peter A. Gudmundsson

Savvy employers know that military veterans often hold the solution to their continuing struggle to attract and retain high-quality talent. They understand that military-experienced personnel possess skills, attitudes and abilities beyond those of most people who have not served. Thus, veterans can add disproportionate value to any team or organization.

But as veteran unemployment drops to one of the lowest levels in years (now 4.4 percent), hiring managers are finding themselves competing aggressively for this worthy talent pool. To compete effectively, companies need to ramp up their veteran-hiring strategies. They must develop branding and outreach tactics that communicate clearly to veterans why their employment opportunities are worthy of consideration. At the core of this effort, companies must understand what most veterans seek as they transition to, or further develop, their civilian careers.

Veterans seek essentially the same features in their careers as everyone else, but two factors set veterans apart. One factor is the alacrity, focus and dedication with which they seek these benefits. The other is that, due to their military experience, veterans tend to focus on certain special sets of needs. Successful hiring managers and recruiters will pay careful attention to these needs as they craft their veteran hiring and retention strategies.

One way to conceptualize and remember this universe of needs is with an alliterative summary – The Four M's: Mission, Momentum, Money and Mentorship. Companies that dependably and consistently deliver on the Four M's will find themselves assembling teams from the pool of America's finest talent – its veterans.Mission

It should come as no surprise that a military-experienced candidate would find immense satisfaction in joining an organization whose mission resonates with his or her personal values and aspirations. While some join the military for college money, adventure or specific experiences, virtually all enlist with an inspiration that stems from some level of idealism. It follows that a team or company that can make an authentic connection between its daily activities and a noble mission or higher purpose will attract and retain better veteran talent. The cause does not have to be especially dramatic or romantic. Not all companies can save an endangered species or cure a disease with their products or services. But companies that communicate with honesty and integrity in the execution of a worthy purpose will rise above others.

Millennial consumers of products, services or employment opportunities – whether veterans or not – also yearn for authenticity. Having grown up in a media-saturated world, these modern workers can spot a fake from miles away. They will, without compunction, avoid an organization that seems inauthentic.

Some veterans have experienced combat, and all have endured screening and training experiences that have matured them and sensitized them to the important things in life. The upside of this orientation is their dedication and determination when bought into a cause. The downside is that an organization that just does not seem important will sustain no appeal for the applicant or employee.


After three to 20 or even more years in uniform, no veteran wants to step back in his or her next job. Too often, veterans fear that they have to enter the civilian world a number of notches below their current stations. Sometimes, this is just a matter of perception. But, more often, it is a result of the rigidity of the employers' career-progression ladders.

Effective employers will examine their hiring practices to see that due credit is assigned for military experience, even when the nature of the work is not precisely that of the new role. The careful crafting of job descriptions should be inclusive of military experience and education. For example, too often companies insist on a candidate's possession of a bachelor's degree when they really mean that they wish to attract someone who finishes stuff they start and can write and communicate well. Many military experiences help generate these attributes. In the armed forces, people finish what they start because they must do so. And good communication skills are essential when lives are at stake in urgent situations.


All employees desire and deserve to be paid fairly for their contributions and labor. The challenge with veterans comes from their lack of understanding of their market value. Indeed, the very notion of market value can seem strange to transitioning veterans who come from a world of fixed "time and grade" pay scales that place importance on seniority and rank above demonstrated competence and reliability.

Education and transparency, therefore, are the keys to making sense of civilian compensation arrangements. Veterans need to understand the relationships among contribution, value and pay and benefits. Employers who effectively lift the veil of secrecy regarding compensation paths and progressions will find that veterans appreciate the direction and clarity in an area that might otherwise baffle them.


While civilians speak of management and sometimes avoid the term "leadership," military members spend much of their service time in the study and practice of the latter art. Most adhere to a simple but aspirational definition of leadership. Those so tasked will both accomplish their assigned mission and take care of their people. This dedication to the needs of team members can sometimes be lacking in a civilian environment solely dedicated to profit or other arbitrary operating metrics. That environment can seem coldly devoid of human purpose or connection.

The ideal and expectation of military leadership is, admittedly, high. And while some commissioned and noncommissioned officers do not live up to these expectations on duty, many veterans expect some level of genuine leadership in their next civilian job. Competitive employers will take leadership development seriously and dedicate resources to cultural development.

For years, corporate recruiters have been predicting a coming "War for Talent." With the lingering effects of the Great Recession, that threat had receded until recently. Suddenly, employers are being called upon to sharpen their game if they wish to win. Since veteran talent is such a key component to an enlightened talent-acquisition strategy, any serious veteran-hiring effort will pay careful and consistent attention to the "Four M's" that the best veterans will seek and require.
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