Demistifying Hollywood: helping veterans (and employers) navigate the transition from military to corporate

Isabella Pinucciby: Isabella Pinucci, Career Services Coordinator
SDA Bocconi School of Management

There is so much that a veteran can bring to an employer. They are carefully selected and trained, can perform under pressure in unfamiliar environments, and they possess soft skills which are extremely valuable to the corporate world, such as dedication, accountability, responsibility for others, great leadership skills and of course resilience.

A few global companies have understood this, and have set up successful veterans recruiting programs – Amazon and Goldman Sachs are two well-known examples. But many others do not immediately recognize that  hiring veterans makes good business sense. In their brilliant MBA CSEA webinar, experts Michele Asbury from London Business School and Dwayne L. Cormier from Canada Company explained why this is the case with some companies, and what they are doing to facilitate the transition from Military to Corporate.

The stereotypes that come from Hollywood movies (and influence most of us) are a big part of the problem. Every year at Bocconi we have a handful of MBA students who served in the Military, and at the beginning I couldn’t help thinking of the film “The Hurt Locker” every time we had an interview. But – surprise – the truth is that most veterans did not necessarily wear camouflage or handle big guns during their service, nor do they all suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (actually only a very small percentage do). Michele and Dwayne explained that there are more than a hundred jobs that people do in the Military, and most of them do not involve combat, but rather a variety of support activities such as logistics, telecommunication, infrastructure management, finance…not so different from the corresponding civilian corporate jobs.

Another problem: veterans and recruiters speak different languages, and therefore do not understand each other. In job interviews veterans tend to use military jargon, and describe activities like bomb displacement or evacuation of civilians that do not normally resonate with a talent acquisition professional. Plus, they are humble to a fault – it’s very difficult for them to talk about their personal strengths and achievements and to separate the “I” from the “we,” as teamwork has always been their main operating mode.

Both Michele and Dwayne spend lots of energy  teaching veterans how to talk  confidently about their skills using corporate-friendly language, as well as how to highlight those skills in cover letters and CVs. Educating employers is also part of their effort, providing them resources to understand the military world and to ask veterans the right questions. They mentioned, among other things, a conversion chart which translates military ranks into organisational levels which sounds really helpful (I made a mental note to get one).

But what happens when a veteran is finally hired into a company? Will they be able to overcome the cultural shock? Michele has no doubts, as long as they think of their new job as “just another mission”.


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