I get it. You meet someone who’s got prior military listed on his or her résumé or introduces himself or herself by military rank or who you know to be a veteran, and you immediately get intimidated. You don’t want to say the wrong thing or appear insensitive or offend the person. In a fluster of hesitation and social cues, you blurt out, “So, have you ever killed anyone?”
Estimates are that 98%–99% of the American population has not served in the military. That means that more than likely, civilians have a limited understanding of why people join the military, what happens when they’re in uniform, and what it means to transition to the civilian sector after a career of military service. This might explain many of the common myths and misperceptions about military veterans and why you, as hiring professionals, should pay attention to avoid them.
Hollywood and Unconscious Bias
Before we get started, it’s important to note that these myths and misperceptions are often propagated by stories we’ve heard or even Hollywood. We should also note that unconscious—or implicit—biases are formed from biases and impressions a person isn’t cognizant of. Without realizing it, when we meet a veteran, we bring certain beliefs, stereotypes, and judgments into the conversation. Some of this is natural and helpful, but it’s often limiting and hurtful.
I’ve worked with many hiring managers and recruiters who didn’t realize they were operating from misunderstandings or unconscious biases and that their thinking, candidate evaluations, and retention strategies were severely impacted by this thinking.
Let’s examine a few of the most common myths and misunderstandings surrounding military talent:
Myth: All veterans have PTSD.
Reality: Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a condition affecting millions of people who have been through trauma. Since the events of September 11, 2001, the United States has sent 2.7 million servicemembers into conflict regions. Some of those men and women experience trauma, leading to a diagnosis of PTSD.
Of those individuals, 10%–20% of U.S. infantry personnel experience post-deployment PTSD, according to research from Cohen Veterans Bioscience, a leading nonprofit serving the military community.
But PTSD is not limited to military service. Studies have shown that “about 7 or 8 out of every 100 people (or 7-8% of the population) will have PTSD at some point in their lives. About 8 million adults have PTSD during a given year.” PTSD (or PTS, as some would like it called, referring to the fact that it’s not technically a “disorder”) can develop in military veterans, as well as first responders, victims of domestic violence, rape victims, automobile accident victims, people affected by terrorist activities, and the list goes on.
To assume the job candidate sitting before you has PTSD because he or she has prior military experience is a misconception. Furthermore, even if that individual is managing a PTSD diagnosis, you can assume the person is under a doctor’s care and is seeking employment because he or she is capable of moving through the symptoms. One veteran I coach shared with me, “Employers should assume anyone—man or woman, veteran or civilian—can have PTSD, not just those of us who served.”
Myth: Veterans just take orders. They can’t think creatively, like an entrepreneur.
Reality: During their military service, individuals often are in the order-giving or order-receiving role, similar to how civilians work. Someone’s the boss, and someone follows instruction.
But veterans are well-trained and poised to think creatively, like entrepreneurs, and often pursue business ownership post-military service. After leaving the military, many veterans pursue entrepreneurship, from franchise ownership to tech start-ups to consulting agencies.
The skills, training, and circumstances of military service position veterans well toward entrepreneurship. They have spent years in high-stress, high-stakes environments; they are accustomed to being resourceful and innovative in solving complex problems; and they have the values of leadership and teamwork to successfully accomplish a mission.
These attributes and skills give veterans the ability to flex, adapt, and pivot when necessary; to consider disparate bits of information to solve a challenge; and to consider the human quotient of problem-solving—all attributes of a great entrepreneur.
For companies seeking employees who bring an entrepreneur mind-set, who’ll push back against legacy systems and who’ll innovate and ideate to identify unique opportunities, veterans make sense!
Myth: Veteran hires won’t fit in with our civilian culture.
Reality: Companies take pride in their culture; it’s a strong recruiting tool used to attract key talent. Culture is an expression of a company’s brand and the values and mission it holds sacred.
Similarly, veterans are used to aligning with values and mission. Their entire time in uniform was a commitment to a mission bigger than themselves, and they serve with honor, dignity, and integrity (military values). While their teams may have looked different, the work was unique to the mission at hand, and their work style was different from how your teams work, we can’t assume these men and women won’t adapt and fit in beautifully.
Consider this: When servicemembers enter the military, they’re often young. They don’t know how to be a platoon leader, company commander, or a drill sergeant; they needed to be trained to perform aviation mechanics, public affairs work, logistics, or ballistics maintenance. They learned alongside others in a team environment, where each person relied on the other to ensure his or her skills, character, and abilities would ensure a successful mission and keep everyone safe.
Veterans bring tremendous value, character, and integrity to the civilian workforce. For decades, companies have learned to retool their hiring and onboarding process slightly to speak to and attract these talented men and women to their organization.
If your company seeks passionate, creative, dedicated, and skilled employees, consider hiring veterans and helping your team manage and navigate the unconscious biases and myths and misconceptions that could limit their potential.
Lida Citroën is an award-winning personal branding and reputation management specialist who helps global professionals, military veterans, and entrepreneurs create their personal brand, reposition their career, and repair their reputation to drive greater impact and meaning in their careers.
As CEO of LIDA360, Citroën is a popular keynote presenter, a TEDx speaker, an instructor on LinkedIn Learning, and a writer at Entrepreneur.com and Military.com. She is a passionate supporter of the military, volunteering to help veterans transitioning to civilian careers and assisting employers that seek to hire military talent. She has authored four books on reputation management and military transition, with her newest book, Success After Service (Kogan Page), being published in October 2020.
Citroën has been featured in numerous media outlets, including MSNBC, Access Hollywood, Bloomberg, Market Watch, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, Woman’s Day magazine, and many other outlets. She is the recipient of numerous awards for her executive coaching skills and volunteer service to the military community.