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Veterans and the corporate world: Q&A with John Phillips

January 26, 2017

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John Phillips, author of "Boots to Loafers," explains the challenges and achievements of veterans entering the world of business.
John Phillips, author of "Boots to Loafers," explains the challenges and achievements of veterans entering the world of business.

In an interview with John Phillips, the retired U.S. Army Officer and author of Boots to Loafers, Finding Your New True North tells the Reynolds Center that corporations must welcome and embrace military veterans, especially now with 90,000 soldiers returning from serving our nation.

What are the main developments you see in terms of veterans entering the corporate world? Are we seeing more, or less, of this trend?

We’re witnessing a real drawdown of our military. According to armytimes.com, the U.S. Army endstrength for March 2016 was 479,172 soldiers, which is 154 fewer troopers than were on active duty when the Army halted the post-Cold War drawdown in 1999. The number will reduce to 450,000 by 2018. The Air Force already has an approved budget and a list of members—officers and non-commissioned officers—who will receive early retirement packages. Unless laws are changed, this is the new normal for the military for the next few years. And that means more returning soldiers attempting to enter the corporate world.

How do you recommend corporations welcome these veterans?

If you happen to have a Business Resource Group or Infinity Group of veterans in your company, get them involved early in developing the hiring strategy for veterans and military. A strategy that clearly defines how the company will actively pursue and engage with lower enlisted, senior non-commissioned officers, warrant officers, junior officers and final senior officers. Each category should have a different strategy since they all are different with respect to skill set, education, background and levels of responsibility and accountability.

Engaging with the veterans you already have inside your organization will pay big dividends in landing the cream of the crop for key positions. Veterans understand veterans versus a human resources person who only understands the military experience from news and the movies. Leverage what you have in your own backyard and you will discover talent that has served this country and now seeks their second life.

How do you see veterans struggling to find employment in the corporate world?

Job hunting feels overwhelming for anyone and the military, as a whole, does not do a good job helping their service members transition, [even] through the various Transition Assistance Programs. Talking with many veterans, I see the following struggles:

• The veteran’s ability to clearly communicate their skills and achievements with a hiring manager.

• The veteran’s ability to translate what they have done while in uniform and how to apply this experience in the private sector. Some succeed with both, but those who struggle can’t get past the phone interview, the precursor to a live interview.

• Hiring managers lacking perspective about the military or what a veteran brings to the plate. Remember, 99 percent of the people in the private sector have not even severed in the military, so it is an uphill climb right from the beginning.

• Veterans facing competition from others and facing downsizing or restructuring in many companies. The qualified candidate pool remains wide and deep. How does a veteran distinguish themselves as a unique candidate?

• A perceived technical ability gap; employers view veterans as candidates who won’t know how to do the job 100 percent. Many feel unwilling to train the candidate on the missing 20 percent of skills. I suggest giving the veteran the benefit of the doubt; train them, and know you’re having someone with a solid character, which remains more valuable to an organization than technical skills.

What are the unique qualities returning military possess within business?

The 1 percent of Americans who swore to support and defend this country with their lives remains a [group with a] special commitment we cannot discount. Simply put, these people were willing to take a bullet for their last employer. These people have been at war for over 16 years in two countries. They missed the simple things in life: the cry of a newborn, the touch of a spouse and home comforts, too. The incredible values a veteran brings to the plate are battle-tested. CEOs should—and do—value veterans who possess trust, loyalty, commitment, passion, imagination, innovation and integrity. So, tell me again why you think they are not a good fit? 


  • Debbi G McCullough

    Debbi Gardiner McCullough's an executive communications coach and expert helping leaders speak and write in ways that others want to listen. Her expertise ties to clear and compelling writing (how to get there) and helping those with a clunky, inacce...

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