When constance Cincotta needed to hire two key employees, her search led to an unexpected place. Glenwood Mason Supply Company Inc., the $25 million sales company Cincotta founded in New York City in 1993, needed a worker with excellent integrity and loyalty to check shipments leaving the company's yard and a manager who could mold yard workers into a cohesive team.
"When I started thinking about who I was looking for, all the characteristics were [those] I associated with the military," says the entrepreneur. Cincotta wound up hiring two former Army officers, and she was so satisfied with the attitudes and skills they brought to the job that she later hired another former soldier to work as a maintenance mechanic for her 80-employee company.
The 190,000 people who leave active service with the U.S. military each year are becoming increasingly attractive employees for entrepreneurs, according to William M. Houchins Jr., vice chair of executive search firm Christian & Timbers in Columbia, Maryland. "Even five years ago, the commonly held belief was that anyone who spent significant time in the armed forces was too inflexible to succeed in the private sector," says Houchins. "All this has changed. CEOs and boards now value the lessons learned from military experience."
Drew Myers, president of RecruitMilitary LLC, a Loveland, Ohio, company that matches employers and ex-military job candidates, says military veterans offer good character and a strong work ethic. "When you hire a veteran, the reference checks have already been done before the interview, by virtue of honorable service," he says.
Many veterans have extensive training in areas from information technology to leadership, all paid for by the government. About a quarter of officers have engineering degrees, which make them attractive to construction, manufacturing and high-tech firms, Myers says. Many others specialize in logistics and transportation--key areas for a variety of companies. Even soldiers strictly trained to fight offer finely tuned abilities to lead teams and solve challenging problems in stressful situations.
Most veterans enter the civilian labor force with an appealing combination of work experience and eagerness to prove themselves, Myers adds. Of course, they also present challenges. For instance, few small companies can match the benefits former soldiers were used to as government employees. Nor is it always immediately obvious how to translate military-skills training to profit-making work activities.
Most issues can be dealt with through careful interviewing. Cincotta was careful to avoid those who seemed as though they'd have trouble integrating into her firm's culture. She asked candidates pointed questions about their ability to lead in an environment where lines of authority are less absolute than in a typical service hierarchy. "I was concerned they might be too forceful or abrupt with employees."
You can find veterans by visiting local military bases and contacting the office in charge of helping former service members transition to the civilian world. There are also a number of online recruiting tools that allow employers to search veterans' resumes and post job openings. They include RecruitMilitary, The Destiny Group and Corporate Gray.
Before extending an offer, Myers suggests making it clear to veterans how their work will fit into the company's plan for success. And emphasize that pay will be based on performance. After you've brought a vet onboard, explain how he or she will be trained to handle new duties. Myers says, "Vets respond best if they understand the training plan, and it's realistic and measurable."
Mark Henricks writes on business and technology for leading publications and is author of Not Just a Living.