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Hiring Matters: What Veterans Can Do For You

by Cam Beck  |  
June 4, 2007

There are few things that irk me more than when people misrepresent or otherwise unjustly disparage the quality of the people serving in uniform. MSNBC recently published an article that typifies this a form of subtle disrespect, even if it was written in good faith.

Apparently, in business, former members of the military are often typecast as perpetually angry people who manage as authoritarians and can get people to do what they want only through yelling and the threat of force. Not only does MSNBC report on this inaccuracy, it helps perpetuate it. Veterans can be, in fact, some of the most clever, loyal, and courageous employees you could hope to hire.
It's true that in the military, there are a few specific situations where yelling as a leadership tool has a legitimate purpose. Certain types of training fall into this category. So does combat. There are other times when yelling is just necessary to be heard, such as when trying to speak to 120 people spread out over a wide area at one time, or when trying to be heard over the piercing whine, roar, and rumble of an aircraft engine.
The MSNBC article snidely informs us that not only is saying "Yes, sir," a detriment, but so is the entire mentality that motivated it. Additionally, the author claims that servicemembers' most admirable universal qualities are confined to being reliable, having the ability to follow orders and being able and willing to fight for their lives. But, the author goes on, "Can they write a resume, network for a job or master the interview process?"
Without a doubt, resume writing and networking are very important skills in business, but far more useful, in my mind, are the ingenuity required to get a broken Humvee running again using only boot laces and the courage required to navigate a minefield.
Specifically to the author's point, a little politeness and respect never hurt anyone, and instead of trying to get people in the military to conform to a society where decorum seems to be a lost art, one should have the decency and self-respect to acknowledge and return this respect in kind. It truly boggles my mind that anyone would believe otherwise.
Second, members of the military are required to do more than just "follow orders." Besides being required to know the difference between a lawful and unlawful order, leaders are customarily given objectives, but not instructions to achieve them. They must determine the best way to accomplish that objective. Specifics are pushed as far down the chain of command as possible. As such, conveying intent and purpose often carries a greater weight than giving a specific set of operations to accomplish. In sum, they are not just encouraged, but required to think for themselves, not just follow orders.
Third, it is not just one's own life people in the military are fighting for. Everyone has their own reasons for joining, but once the bullets start flying, they fight for each other. That demonstrates an admirable loyalty. Of course they want to stay alive, but to boil it down to self-preservation is terribly -- if not maliciously -- misleading.
Furthermore, consider this dramatized conversation based on the real-life experience of Eddie Trumble, Jr., who, after retiring from the military, where he earned his undergraduate and master's degrees, he had difficulty finding a job:

Sure, Eddie. I see that, while you were serving your country for twenty years, facing the constant threat of unexpected and frequent deployments, living in some of the most stressful environments imaginable, you managed to finish your bachelor's and get an MBA.
But what I really want to know is, can you write a resume?

Let me give a quick message to the hiring managers who passed on Mr. Trumble: The next time someone with these qualifications comes by your desk, and you decide to pass on him, please send him my way. If you lack the imagination to find a place for him in your organization, I'd be glad to take him off your hands.
See my bio for a full disclosure.

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As the youngest member of his family, Cam Beck decided to put college on hold long enough to join his brothers and father in the Marine Corps. After training as a basic rifleman and an electronics technician, Cam was released from active duty in 1993 and has been working in the civilian workforce ever since - never holding fewer than two jobs and/or businesses at once for long. While taming his learned nomadic tendencies, he finally finished undergraduate school in 2004.

Paying homage to his military roots, Cam cut his teeth on Internet marketing with the launch of in 1997, hoping to capture and explain the essence of what makes the Marine Corps such a tight-knit organization. It was through this experience of serving those he admired that Cam came to develop his philosophy for good business:

  1. In order to deliver effective customer service, you must first become a servant to your customers.
  2. To become an effective servant to your customers, you must first admire and respect them.
  3. Respect for others requires you put their needs before your own.
  4. Every experience is a learning opportunity.

These maxims have served as the basis for Camís philosophy of user-centered design as an experience planner for Click Here, Inc., where Cam focuses on the disciplines of information architecture, usability, and strategy for Click Hereís clients.

Cam lives in Grand Prairie, Texas with his family and dogs. When heís not changing diapers, cleaning up other messes, blogging, or dreaming, heís volunteering for and participating in his sonís Boy Scout troop.

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  • by Paul Barsch Mon Jun 4, 2007 via blog

    Cam, I have a buddy at a company that tries to actively hire from the military because he gets candidates that have sharp minds, display leadership, and can think quickly on their feet. All essential traits for success in business.

  • by Claire Ratushny Mon Jun 4, 2007 via blog

    Hi Cam, Thank you for your eloquent and heartfelt post. And thank you for your service to our country. A great many of us appreciate the sacrifices of our military and their families. I agree with your assessment of the great value veterans bring to business. To what you have written, I would also add that companies would benefit immensely from the demonstrated self discipline of our veterans. This is sorely lacking in our society and workplaces today. Secondly, the team work, camaraderie, respect and loyalty veterans bring to companies, would make inspiring examples for everyone else to follow. Keep on fighting the good fight, Cam. You're right in what you are saying and doing.

  • by Lewis Green Mon Jun 4, 2007 via blog

    Cam, When I was in the corporate world here is what I observed. As a communications/marketing/PR professional, most of those I worked with were more than happy to go along to get along. They were smart and good at their work but seldom expressed differences with the department's leaders, except behind their backs. Veterans often speak their minds, and as one of those departmental leaders, I often expressed my passion in straight-foward language and left the warm and fuzzies to others. I stood out in the group. The first two years I was considered the best and the brightest. The next two years (four years was my average lifespan in any corporate job), I was considered loud. The tone of my voice hadn't changed. But because speaking our minds requires others to think, and often do more work, some aren't into that. They prefer putting in their nine hours as easily as possible, without rippling any waters. I think veterans bring a sense of loyalty to a business and its goals, and are about being the best we can be. Good for business, bad for those working for a check. P.S. There are more than a few non-veterans who approach business the same way. We veterans aren't the only ones striving for perfection. The non-veterans received the same treatment as I. Too many in corporations are their for the security, the pay and the benefits and are willing to play the political games required to survive that environment. I think most veterans, especially the enlisted ranks as compared to the officer corps, hate political gaming.

  • by David Reich Mon Jun 4, 2007 via blog

    I think cam and Lewis nailed it as to how vets bring a sense of loyalty and the hard work ethic to a business. Of course, there are the stereotypes that get in the way -- are they just order-takers who follow blindly, etc. These are old stereotypes that are hard to change. It comes down to what a business wants in its employees. Some want leaders; some want those who just do what they're told. You'll find both types of people among vets and among the general population.

  • by Gannon Beck Mon Jun 4, 2007 via blog

    "Apparently, in business, former members of the military are often typecast as perpetually angry people who manage as authoritarians and can get people to do what they want only through yelling and the threat of force." I think this is because many people get their information about the military from movies like, "Full Metal Jacket," and don't understand the depth and breadth of leadership training in the service. Aside from these stereotypes being inaccurate, the lack of understanding about leadership training can result in discriminatory practices, so I thank you for shedding light on the subject.

  • by Cam Beck Tue Jun 5, 2007 via blog

    Paul and Claire - Thank you for your insight. I've gotten some feedback from others like you who have given me hope that the stereotypes given an audience in the MSNBC article isn't at all universal. That is very nice to hear. Lewis - I wouldn't know anything about speaking my mind. Nope. No idea. ;) David - I had an interesting discussion with some colleagues a few months ago. My position was that a particular organization should solicit specific types of feedback from several highly talented rank-and-file employees to help shape the future of the organization, as they have strong potential to one day lead the organization. They disagreed, saying that those employees will and ought to do exactly as they're told. Without going too deeply into the virtues of employee buy-in, I will mention that the one of the stated goals of Marine Corps leadership is to build and train future leaders. This applies not only directly to their jobs in the military, but also to their lives outside of it. Clearly, everyone doesn't have the same experience, but organizations that set high expectations for their employees tend to help them develop more. Notably, one of the employees whose advice I said should have been solicited has since been promoted to a leadership role within the organization. Gannon - Thank you for weighing in. I also enjoyed your post on the same article. As I told you on the phone, there are so many angles from which one can look at the subject, it's tough to tackle them all in a single article.

  • by Jennifer R. Tue Jun 5, 2007 via blog

    As a military fiancee, I thank you for this response to the article, which I read the other day. Preconceived assumptions abound in hiring, unfortunately. Fresh out of grad school with my M.A. in English I was told by numerous business firms in interviews "Why aren't you teaching?" Which left me with the thought (unvoiced) "If I was looking to be a teacher would I be applying here?" I once worked with a manager in retail who said that he was thrilled at the opportunity to hire people with military expertise. I'm glad you personally share that mindset and hope more employers will do the same. Stereotypes in general are not helpful.

  • by Harry Hallman Wed Jun 6, 2007 via blog

    Cam, I read that article but did not take it as disrespect to vets. I believe the intent of the article was to help vets to obtain civilian jobs. Yes there might have been a phase or 2 that they could have changed, but overall it seemed helpful to me. In fact, I wish I had that kind of help when I was re entering the "world" in 1966 after 4 years in the service. As you may remember in that era many people in the US were not as supportive of Vets as they are now. The experience one gets in the military can be extremely beneficial to potential employers and we as job seekers must be able to explain that in a way they will understand. As employers we are well advised to seek out vets and give them an opportunity. I know that I learned a lot and was far better off for being in the military than I would have been if I did not have that experience. I believe it helped immensely me in my career.

  • by Cam Beck Wed Jun 6, 2007 via blog

    Harry - Thank you for your input. It looks like you did alright for yourself. Congrats! :) I agree with your sentiments about the value of military experience. Also, I do not question the intent of the article, but rather some of the underlying assumptions. As I said, it appears the article was written in good faith, and the disrespect shown by the article was rather subtle, not overt. However, when I wrote the post, my frustration was with the sort of myths about military culture and leadership an article like that might perpetuate. The responses I've received by many good folks here, over email, and at lead me to believe I have less reason to be frustrated than I originally thought.

  • by Jim Stroup Sun Jul 8, 2007 via blog

    Thank you, Cam, for this great post. You obviously come from a great Marine family, and I thank you for that, as well. The country is becoming less and less familiar, directly or indirectly, with what life in the military means for those who serve and for the country, in general, due to the decades that have passed since we went to the all-voluntary force. So, vigilance and writing like yours is all the more important. Thanks again, and Semper Fi!

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