Hiring Veterans Is Smart Strategy but These 3 factors Drive Them Away

Two-thirds of veterans leave their first post-military job within two years.


6 min read

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Following the lead of corporations like Comcast, T-Mobile and Amazon, U.S. businesses of all sizes and industries are making a concentrated push to hire veterans. And why not?

The training and experience veterans receive in the military instills a steadfast work ethic, a mission-mindedness and an ability to learn quickly. U.S. servicemen and women are trained to act fast under intense pressure in resource-constrained environments, giving them an ability to focus, a level head under stress, and an adaptability that prepares them to tackle any obstacle.

They’re forced to work, live and sleep in close quarters, often in dire circumstances, with diverse groups of people. When conflicts arise, they don’t have the luxury of transferring or firing someone or even of walking away themselves; they are trained and focused leaders, adept at finding solutions that benefit the organization. But perhaps above all, veterans are defined by a value system and sense of loyalty that make them one of your company’s strongest assets.

And yet, many businesses aren’t set up to recognize the full value of their military talent. Most businesses approach the hiring, development and retention of military talent as they do that of civilian employees. This is a mistake. The unique circumstances in which veterans gained their experience and honed their skills demand special consideration to avoid these three factors driving them away.

The reality is that 65 percent of Veterans leave their first post-military job within two years. Here’s why.

1. You’ve typecast them into a role.

For their first job in the civilian world, veterans are often hired into positions that match their Military Occupational Specialty (MOS). Their resumes are a list of jargon, acronyms and hard skills for recruiters and hiring managers to cross-reference with technical requirements of open jobs.

The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t recognize the soft skills — leadership, work ethic, analytical thinking and teamwork — that indicate the greater career potential (and organizational value) of military applicants. Compoundng that, veterans who may associate asking for help as a weakness don’t advocate for themselves for new opportunities the way their civilian colleagues might. As a result, they may not be offered ongoing training or considered for new or more senior positions as their civilian colleagues might. Their career stagnates.

Thirty-one percent of veterans leave their first post-military job because of a lack of career development or advancement; nearly 30 percent leave because they find the work meaningless, unchallenging or tedious; and 23 percent leave because of inadequate professional development opportunities.

In the military, servicemen and women know their current standing and future career path, and they crave that same transparency and opportunities to learn, grow and advance in their new civilian careers. Companies should encourage a culture of servant leadership, in which managers purposefully engage with veteran candidates and employees to learn their interests and career aspirations, and keep them challenged and invested in the company.

Related: Discover the Raw Talent of Millennials and Veterans

2. You’re speaking a different language.

The hierarchy of a business — more horizontal and collaborative than the vertical chain of command veterans are accustomed to — introduces challenges in reporting, productivity and long-term growth. Veterans accustomed to answering to one commanding officer might be disoriented by having a field of superiors to report to for different projects or assignments. At the same time, they may feel slighted if a peer contacts one of their “direct reports” without going through the approved chain of command.

Veterans in the corporate world are surrounded by these shades of gray, when in the military it was either black or white, yes sir or no ma’am. Communication gaps persist, with veterans often not picking up on certain innuendos or the nuances of certain business vernacular. These disconnects can hurt both a veteran’s ability to bond with their colleagues and to uncover opportunities for their own personal advancement.

Consider pairing veterans up with a mentor, ideally (though it doesn’t have to be) another veteran who has successfully assimilated into the corporate world. Invest in formal training to teach mentors how to be empathetic and understanding, and to respond to whatever issues or concerns — corporate, personal, even medical — the veteran may be coping with.

Giving veterans someone to help them navigate their new environment and decipher new types of interpersonal interactions could prevent minor miscommunications from escalating into a larger problem, or a reason to leave.

Related: Veterans and Reservists Are Your Secret Talent Weapon. But, Careful, You May Lose Them.

3. You’re not offering service opportunities.

Veterans are defined by their selflessness and commitment to country. When they leave the military and its built-in service culture, they can feel disoriented, purposeless and lost.

While many companies grant employees the occasional day of service, these eight hours a year often aren’t enough to satisfy a veteran’s innate desire to serve. Service can’t be an afterthought. It needs to be woven into the very fabric of your company culture.

Consider unique work arrangements like job sharing or shortened work weeks (for instance a 35-hour work week and five hours of volunteer time). Organize after-hours or even lunchtime volunteer events like reading to children at a neighborhood school or counseling other transitioning veterans.

Understand, too, that some service members may choose to remain in the reserves to fill the void, and you’ll have to create an environment that is accepting of that service. Arrange lunch and learns or additional manager check-ins to help Reservists seamlessly step back into their civilian jobs after returning from drills so they don’t feel as if they’re falling behind. At the same time, educate your entire workforce on the continued sacrifice these service members make to encourage camaraderie and prevent feelings of resentment from surfacing.

Related: 3 Ways the Army Prepared Me for Entrepreneurship

A top-down mentality.

The biggest mistake companies can make when it comes to hiring and managing Veterans is not recognizing the unique qualities and valuable perspectives they bring to the organization.

Instead of ignoring Veterans or trying to fit them into a traditional corporate mold, companies need to create a culture that attracts, embraces, and nurtures military talent. That starts with a commitment from leadership to understand, challenge, and support Veterans during their transition. Your companies will reap the rewards in the long run.

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