This piece originally ran on Forbes.com.
Veterans can be amazing employees to add to your team. Veteran-owned businesses can be a cut above. Both can outrank their civilian peers based on soft skills alone. Growing your team? Hire a veteran. Sourcing external vendors? Choose a veteran-owned business. As a veteran of U.S. Air Force intelligence and now a business owner, I’ve been on both sides of the desk and see tremendous value in hiring veterans.
Why Veterans Excel
Veterans made it through basic training, a mind-bending, limit-pushing experience on its own. Most of them have served in various roles in a variety of fields throughout their military career. Some positions require skills that could mean the difference between life and death. It simply doesn’t get any more real than that.
1. Veterans walk the talk.
In our growing gig economy where anyone can start a business or label themselves an expert, soft skills — or lack thereof — shine brightly in today’s business landscape. A major aspect of any transactional relationship is trust. As a business, you need to know you can rely on that person, contractor or vendor to follow through, do the right thing and be accountable. Someone can be the best at what they do, but if they don’t walk the talk, that talent is immediately canceled out.
2. Veterans know when to lead and when to follow.
The debate rages on about whether leaders are born or made. One thing we do know is that experience is necessary to build that leadership muscle. Military personnel are trained to think fast and make important decisions quickly for the benefit of the mission. Military experience provides hands-on skills in decision-making, delegation, self-awareness, teamwork, situational assessments, psychology, etc. Leaders are constantly being made in the military, and members know how to assess a situation, develop a solution, pivot, delegate and swiftly identify any missing or weak links.
3. Veterans are disciplined.
Well, this one is easy. There is no try. You do it. If you fail, you try again. Don’t want to? You don’t have that choice. Many military members are used to working long hours and various shifts while facing last-minute changes and directives from above at the drop of a dime. In my role in intelligence, we worked missions that lasted 10 or more hours in extremely intense, real-time environments where you couldn’t skip a beat. Quick yet concise thinking, an insane level of detail, focused attention, real-time analysis and calculated decision-making were required each and every minute of the duration of that mission. It required planning, time management, communication, discipline, focus, teamwork and the many moving parts that went into the actual job.
4. Veterans are accountable.
In everything in life, accountability is key. It’s not an option in the military. Each and every service member is accountable for their actions. In the civilian world, employees that aren’t accountable are a drain on resources the minute they’re onboarded. Businesses that don’t have accountability built into their culture will fail. Period.
5. Veterans pay attention to details.
Attention to detail is key in everything we do in business and in life. I’ll never forget during basic training, we had to yell “details” while on our assigned duties. We did the most mundane cleaning exercises. Our uniforms had to be impeccable at all times. We ironed everything, even our T-shirts. We clipped off the smallest, barely noticeable strings from our uniforms. We spit-shined our boots. We had to keep records of each serial number on each bill in a notebook in our wall lockers. I thought it was all so mundane and useless. Later I saw how that attention to detail mattered. When it comes time for something big, details are essential.
6. Veterans know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em.
In the military, if someone misses a key performance task or benchmark, they are let go, reassigned or pushed back. Period. The tech school I attended had a 50% washout rate because it’s one of the most intense educational institutions in the country. Course lengths lasted upwards of a year, five days a week, with two to three hours of daily homework. If a student fell behind, it was nearly impossible to catch up, so they cut the ones who couldn’t keep pace. It was necessary for the success of the group.
7. Veterans understand that teamwork makes the dream work.
A lot of research has been conducted on translating military teambuilding into the business world. It’s a hot commodity. And for good reason. According to Military.com, graduates of the most elite special forces and Navy Seals programs are not necessarily the biggest, fastest or strongest, but they are the ones with the highest mental fortitude and are able to integrate into the team dynamics necessary to succeed. Teamwork involves outbound and inbound communication, as well as having the psychological awareness to “read the room,” even when those queues are subtle. A good team can make a plan and execute it but may get bogged down at the first sign of a problem. A great team encounters obstacles, pivots and continues toward the successful completion of the goal.
Three Ways To Honor A Veteran
1. Hire a veteran.
According to the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau, there are approximately 17.4 million veterans in the United States. Want to thank one? Start a veteran hiring initiative at your company and actively recruit them.
2. Choose a veteran-owned business.
According to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), there were 2.4 million veteran-owned businesses in the nation in 2012. It also found that veterans are 45% more likely to be self-employed than non-veterans.
3. Mentor a veteran.
If you’re a business owner or C-level executive, you’ve probably spent decades honing your skills. Share the knowledge. Implement a veteran hiring program at your company. As a volunteer, take some time to provide career coaching to military members transitioning out.
And don’t forget to thank them for their service!