Field Tested: Recruiting, Managing, and Retaining Veterans

Field Tested: Recruiting, Managing, and Retaining Veterans

by Emily King

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As the founder of consulting firm Military Transitions, Emily King applied over a decade’s worth firsthand HR knowledge to pioneer the charge of helping military professionals migrate from military service to civilian employment. Now, in this thought-provoking book, she’s equipping leaders with the tools they need to recruit and retain some of America’s top talent--and understand the unique considerations involved when working with employees from a military background. Field Tested uncovers key cultural differences between the military and civilian workplace and reveals how these differences can affect employee performance, satisfaction, and retention. You’ll discover best practices for interviewing veterans, on-boarding them quickly and effectively, positioning them for success, ensuring a smooth cultural transition, managing performance, and helping them develop lasting careers. With a wealth of unique talents and experiences, veterans add value to your team beyond your typical civilian employee. Complete with real-world examples, practical models, and savvy advice, Field Tested gives readers insight into veterans’ exceptional abilities so you can maximize their benefit in any organization.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780814417805
Publisher: AMACOM
Publication date: 11/10/2011
Sold by: HarperCollins Publishing
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 192
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

EMILY KING is a nationally recognized expert on the transition from military service to civilian employment. She has worked extensively with veterans and civilian hiring organizations, and is a frequent speaker at industry events including SHRM and ASTD.

Read an Excerpt

Field Tested

Recruiting, Managing, and Retaining Veterans
By Emily King


Copyright © 2012 Emily King
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8144-1780-5

Chapter One

What You Get When You Hire a Vet

EVERY YEAR THOUSANDS OF U.S. MILITARY VETERANS enter the civilian job market. In fact, the Department of Veterans Affairs projects that more than one million service members will transition out of the military by 2014. As an undertapped source of talent, this segment of the workforce warrants a closer look.

As soldiers (Army term), sailors (Navy term), airmen (Air Force term), Marines, and Coast Guardsmen have been returning from combat, there is a lot in the news about their challenges related to finding civilian employment and to coming back with certain war-related disabilities, both physical and psychological. In parallel, we're hearing a lot about civilian employers demonstrating a spirit of patriotism by launching recruitment initiatives for veterans and disabled veterans.

Unique Strengths

Let's start with a very basic question: Why hire a veteran? Because it's good business. Set aside all of the other considerations like altruism and patriotism and look at what they bring in terms of competence and productivity. There are some key characteristics unique to veterans. Even a young person with only a few years of service will bring ingrained qualities and values. So while this person may not bring a lot of professional experience or marketable skills, he or she can easily learn new skills to do a job. Contrast this with a young person with neither the job skills nor the work ethic, and the distinction becomes clear in terms of adding immediate value to your organization. Research finds these to be the most notable military characteristics:

• Loyalty

• Values

• Discipline

• Ownership/Accountability

• Leadership

• Strategy

• Diverse experience

• Bringing order to chaos

• Important credentials

Some of these may look obvious, but keep reading and you just might be surprised at how they reveal themselves and positively impact a civilian work environment.


For those who may not be aware of this, joining the U.S. military requires each and every individual to swear an oath of loyalty. This oath is extremely serious. Having taken the oath, many veterans are accustomed to behaving and observing others behave loyally toward their employer. Loyalty is the expectation, not the exception.

Any civilian new-hire has the potential to be a lifelong employee if he or she has a reason to stay. Effective managers who are genuinely concerned for the welfare of their employees are highly correlated with retention. In the military, a high level of involvement is ingrained in the leadership philosophy. For example, in the military, your immediate superior knows you, probably knows your family, and is concerned with you as a member of the community on and off the job. It is that manager's job to "take care of " the team, which can mean being brought into team members' personal lives, celebrations, challenges of all types. The sense of community contributes to loyalty and may be instructive to civilian managers striving for loyal employees and high retention.


The military, across the branches of service, has a very strong culture, as anybody who observes it from the outside can tell. The military has specific ways of doing things, procedure and protocol, which are necessary to serve the mission. Most civilian organizations don't ask employees to put their lives on the line every day (or any day), but the military does, so it requires structure and rigor in order to minimize risk. Values are not platitudes but are a cornerstone of that culture. These values are baked into the operating procedures and language and are inherent in each individual member, who then brings them to your civilian organization. This is a tremendous asset of the veteran job candidate because, as you know, with the average civilian job candidate, you only have their word for how they operate. Do they value integrity? Teamwork? Working under pressure? Everybody knows to say those phrases in an interview, but what does a civilian new hire really bring with him or her? With a military service member, you can pretty much count on seeing consistent evidence of the values listed above in addition to cooperation, personal responsibility, and a cando spirit.


This characteristic is often associated with the military, but what does it mean? Does it mean getting up at the crack of dawn, running five miles, and cleaning the house before leaving for work in the morning? In the military, discipline means doing things the right way even if the right way takes longer to accomplish; it means following protocol to the letter to ensure consistent results, rather than increasing risk by improvising. As a civilian outsider, we can easily observe that the military culture places great value on discipline, expects to see it, and rewards it. Discipline is viewed as an operating principle, a way of being, the "right" way to get things done. Discipline is a character strength in the military that in the civilian world translates to employees you can count on to see a task through to completion and to do so under extremely stressful conditions.

In the words of a former enlisted service member, "The military attitude is, 'adapt and overcome.' There's nothing we can't do—it might take longer, but we'll do it."


In the military, you are issued the tools required to do your job. It is your responsibility to maintain and account for those tools, and frequent inventory inspections ensure that no one is caught without the tools he or she needs. If a junior enlisted service member loses his wrench and then has to report it lost as part of the inspection process, the cost of the wrench comes out of his paycheck, unless he can replace it himself before reporting it. In either case, he is paying to replace the lost government-issued wrench. That's all there is to it. By ensuring that the individual has a personal stake in the proper procedures and protection of assets, each individual quickly learns to take time and care to protect those assets. The individual who loses his wrench once will undoubtedly take full ownership of the replacement so as to protect the asset. Ownership and accountability are characteristic of the military way of operating, and service members bring this to the civilian workplace. Finger pointing and avoiding blame are a coward's way out, and the "right" manner of dealing with errors is to own up to them. Many times it is the veteran in an organizational team or division who sets the example for others to act with greater integrity as well.


Any length of military service—even just one three-year tour of duty—will include training and experience in leadership. Leadership begins in boot camp and continues throughout the career of a service member. When you stop to think about it, the one thing that makes the military run effectively is a constant pipeline of leaders at every level (rank) in the hierarchy. Nobody invests in leadership training like the U.S. military.

One outcome of this leadership culture is a consistent point of view from veterans that you won't get from the average civilian, who likely brings a tapestry of leadership training and experience. In the civilian workplace, people can advance into management roles based on business results (e.g., sales figures) rather than on demonstrated leadership skills and ability. There can be a world of difference between words on a resume and real-time, on-the-ground effectiveness. On the other hand, when it comes to military service members, you can be sure that they do have some degree of administrative management ability if not higher-level leadership strength.


The size of the military and the scope of its mission mean that personnel, especially those with responsibility for squads or units, are exposed to large-scale operations. Everything is a large-scale operation, when you think about it. For example, moving five hundred people across the globe by sea for an eighteen-month deployment is a complicated process to plan and execute, but not uncommon in the military. For this reason, veterans can often conceive of strategy and change at a larger scale than the average civilian who hasn't led a complex operation with lots of moving parts. This is not to say that everyone comes out of the service with strategy experience, but they have been part of a huge machine, a huge organization, and they have been part of making it work. Things that may intimidate or baffle civilians in terms of how to get something done are often less overwhelming for a veteran.

Diverse Experience

Military service members typically change jobs and/or locations every three years. You may hear this referred to as a change of duty station. Some describe the three-year tour this way: year one is learning the job and the boss, year two is mastering it, and year three is thinking about the next tour and training your replacement. In this regard, a military resume and skill set can look completely different from that of a civilian because it may reflect many unrelated roles that aren't connected on what looks like a coherent career path. For example, someone may have worked a personnel-related job for three years and then moved to a logistics role for the next three years, followed by three years of combat preparation and deployment. So when you're looking at new-hires and how they need to be on-boarded and what their world view is coming in, most will bring a variety of skills and experience that enhance their value to your organization, not to mention the flexibility to move and change roles as needed. We will talk more about this in Chapter 10 on recruitment.

In addition to diverse work experience, veterans are accustomed to working with a diversity of people. The U.S. military is demographically diverse, with representation from every ethnic and socioeconomic group and a strong track record of women and minorities in leadership. The military's life-and-death mission breaks down social barriers and creates camaraderie where you might not find it in the civilian workplace.

Bringing Order to Chaos

This is in some ways a summary of all previous strengths. Military service members often have experience working with lots of moving parts that need to be organized. This includes structuring processes and coordinating large groups of people. This allows them to envision order where someone else might be overwhelmed by all that has to be done. For example, consider a team that doesn't communicate or get along and that misses deadlines and has a reputation for being difficult to work with. To the average manager, this can look like one big nightmare to deal with. A veteran, on the other hand, might look at it and immediately see a path to order and getting things on track. A veteran may not know how to tactically accomplish it in a new organization, but he or she will likely be able to visualize an outcome based on the diversity of experiences that were part of military service.

Important Credentials

The military heavily invests time and money toward training service members. Consequently, many have received extensive (and expensive!) technical training and certifications. This represents a tremendous cost savings to civilian organizations that hire veterans. Likewise, many recent service members have pre-existing security clearances, which are of great value to government employers, defense agencies, and civilian organizations.

There are three benefits to understanding the unique strengths of veterans. The first is that you can leverage veterans as broadly as possible to serve your organization and to satisfy the veteran, who may not want to be limited to skills used in the most recent military job held. The second is that you can frame relevant interview questions, and the third is that you err on the side of making favorable assumptions about veterans rather than succumbing to unfavorable (and probably unintentional) assumptions based on stereotypes of the military (we'll explore this further in later chapters of the book).

The exercise on the following table is an important step toward identifying the gap between your organization's current culture and how it could be strengthened by hiring veterans. Consider taking a few moments to complete it and see what you discover!

Closing Thoughts

Our research has shown that former military service members bring great value to the civilian organizations that hire them, but that value is optimized when transition support is provided. Few organizations are currently providing such support. This is great news for you, the reader, because it means that you are ahead of the curve simply by reading this book. Implementing its ideas and best practices can truly differentiate your organization from others competing for military talent. It will mean a lot to job candidates that you and your organization care enough to learn about them as a community and have a strong desire to be an "employer of choice" for them.

The bottom line is that when you hire a veteran, you stand to bring somebody into your organization who (1) is accustomed to having to get things done, (2) is resourceful, doing it with little thought to their own self-interest, and (3) keeps the mission and the organization in mind. This is a strong place to start, regardless of the cultural learning curve that may follow. After all, think about all the resources of time and money organizations spend in an effort to instill those qualities in their employees. There are incentive programs, motivational giveaways and prizes, team-building events that attempt to engender a sense of commitment to the organization and to the work itself ... all with various degrees of effectiveness. In contrast, the military cultivates an extraordinary degree of employee engagement without such extras, and the service members you hire bring that high level of engagement with them. Your challenge is to sustain engagement by having a veteran-friendly culture. This brings us to our next topic: cultural differences between military and civilian organizations and how to bridge the gap.

Chapter Two

It's All About Culture

IT'S NO SURPRISE THAT MILITARY SERVICE MEMBERS come to the civilian workforce with a unique mindset. As a result, the transition from one organizational culture to the other is often fraught with missteps or, to put a positive spin on it, "on the job training." A manifestation of this transition challenge is that military service members may not ask for help or seek resources because they aren't aware of a need. Absent information or feedback to the contrary, they may see their methods as being effective when they are not. This creates an imperative for line managers and internal HR professionals to be prepared to provide proactive support. A smooth and successful transition contributes directly to success and retention, as evidenced by the most common reasons veterans give for leaving a civilian job: lack of fit and difficulty adapting to new ways of doing things.

The Challenge of Cultural Transition

Imagine leaving your retirement party after twenty years with a civilian company. You have a lot to show for those twenty years and a lot to be proud of. You also have another ten years to work if you so wish. You decide to join the military as a senior leader with deep functional expertise in the field of learning and development. You look forward to the challenge of implementing your proven best practices in a new organization. It is your first day. Your new boss greets you. Do you know what to call her? Jane? Mrs. Smith? Ma'am? With her is your new assistant. What do you call him? Private? Joe? Deputy? Kiddo, because he looks so young?

After a while, you are asked to prepare a simple memo regarding a routine training policy. Do you know how to write so people will understand it and take action? Do you use a casual, friendly tone? Collegial? Or formal ... perhaps using a standard format of some kind?


Excerpted from Field Tested by Emily King Copyright © 2012 by Emily King. Excerpted by permission of AMACOM. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


List of Figures....................vii
Foreword by Sean Collins....................xiii
PART 1: GETTING UP TO SPEED....................5
Chapter 1: What You Get When You Hire a Vet....................7
Chapter 2: It's All About Culture....................16
Chapter 3: Common Challenges of Military-to-Civilian Transition....................38
Chapter 4: Military Transition as a Matter of Diversity and Inclusion....................48
Chapter 5: The Military Transition Framework....................65
Chapter 6: Detaching....................71
Chapter 7: Regrouping....................80
Chapter 8: Integrating....................92
Chapter 9: The Veteran Retention Lifecycle....................101
Chapter 10: Recruitment....................106
Chapter 11: On-Boarding....................129
Chapter 12: Performance Management....................141
Chapter 13: Career Development....................157
Chapter 14 The Veteran Retention Lifecycle and Re-engagement....................163
Appendix A: Action Plan....................171
Appendix B: Resources....................175
End Notes....................177
About the Author....................187

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