Military Veterans: Ready to Serve in the Workplace


BusinessWeek.com reader Nick Haston, a former British army officer, says returning veterans have the special skills employers need in tough times

"What I Learned in the Trenches" is an interesting look at veterans who have started their own businesses because of a lack of success in traditional job placement. Without question, it's tough for veterans to find work, especially in an economy that has lost 3.6 million jobs since the recession began in December 2007.

As I said in my comment on the article, those employers who are hiring—or who are looking for a strategic advantage to help them through tough times—should be thinking hard about hiring our veterans. But they shouldn't do so out of obligation. The military equips its members with skills and attributes that are particularly valuable in this economy. Hiring a veteran could be the smartest personnel decision you make.

From Bernie Madoff to free-spending executives, a "get-rich-quick" mentality has led to the loss of billions of dollars and valuable corporate reputations. The military engenders values of honor and integrity that are sorely needed in Corporate America and beyond, and can well position a company to win new business and protect its good name.

Battle-Tested Leadership

More than ever, businesses are in need of experienced leaders to navigate these troubled times. Military officers are trained as leaders and managers. They can analyze problems and produce solutions in a very short time. And they are expert planners.

In Afghanistan, where I served as an officer for the British army, I was part of a force of American, British, Estonian, and Afghan soldiers to capture the Taliban stronghold of Musa Quleh. We succeeded in taking the town and worked with the residents to help them rebuild. The reason for our success? Thorough advance planning that included reviewing all options, knowing the risks of the strategy we chose, and how to mitigate those risks.

The current economic climate is making many executives scared to make decisions. But inaction is no route to success. Good leaders will know the risks to the courses they choose—and how to mitigate those risks. But they will be ready to make decisions. Military leaders make tough choices every day.

As companies are forced to look to new markets inside or outside the U.S. for clients and partners, cultural sensitivity and the ability to build new relationships are critical. That's one of the main reasons my firm, RMJM, hired me. As an international architecture firm, RMJM is looking for new clients and partners across the globe.

Cultural Sensitivity Is Invaluable

For example, in Afghanistan we had to get commanders and soldiers from several NATO nations—as well as local Afghans—to operate as a cohesive unit to achieve the mission. Even the U.S. and British militaries have very different ways of doing things. The ability to plan and cooperate and get everyone working in the same direction was vital and saved lives.

In Baghdad, cultural sensitivity and awareness was crucial. The Iraqi capital is a culturally mixed place. Soldiers there must work with people who may resent them. A leader who can negotiate those kinds of cultural barriers is a valuable employee to have.

Moreover, at a time of very tight finances, military veterans come to the job market with a highly tuned awareness of resources: budgets, equipment, and people. Military budgets are stressed—and good soldiers know how to manage what they have to maximum effect.

What employer would not want to hire a job applicant who is accustomed to working evenings and weekends, comes with an ingrained work ethic, is able to assimilate information quickly, can plan effectively, and build new relationships easily? Military veterans stand ready to serve.


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