There is a powerful business case for hiring veterans: 79% of employers who hire military candidates do so based on their qualifications, skills and leadership. Yet while veterans have a lower unemployment rate than the overall population, some still struggle to find meaningful work. Similarly, employers can’t always connect with this talent pool or realize its potential.
Matt Disher is the veteran recruitment and program manager at leading commercial real estate services firm Cushman & Wakefield. A former Marine, Disher has over two decades of experience as a recruiter, and he’s passionate about helping veterans transition into successful civilian careers. Disher estimates that he’s placed thousands of these job seekers and helped countless others over the years, so he brings a wealth of knowledge about this hiring niche.
In honor of Veterans Day, we spoke with him to learn more about successfully recruiting veterans — and why this talent pool is so important for employers.
Military jobs build transferable skills
“People in the military bring diverse skill sets and experiences,” Disher says. But moving from military service to a civilian career brings an array of challenges, including navigating the job search; deciding where to live; translating skills from the field onto a resume; and simply adjusting to a new way of life.
Disher vividly remembers his own struggles to find employment. After a series of odd jobs, he was hired as a 911 operator, where his ability to work in extremely high-stress situations — a characteristic shared by many former service members — helped him thrive. Soon, his managers were asking how they could hire more people like him.
“I got the idea that I could make a career out of taking people out of the military and trying to [help them find civilian] jobs,” Disher recalls. Knowing that many veterans learned relevant skills during their time in the service but perhaps didn’t know how to translate them, he now helps these job seekers match their abilities and experience with civilian positions that are a good fit.
Part of the problem, Disher explains, relates to misconceptions on the part of employers about what military personnel actually do. Many are not in active combat, but rather, spend their service honing highly transferable hard and soft skills in familiar roles.
“They’re in [human resources], veterinary work, medicine, technology — you name it,” he says.
Disher has spent his career helping veterans navigate this shift. The trick is knowing how to articulate these on-the-job skills on a resume, making the connections between military roles and civilian careers. He uses the example of property managers in the military, who perform the same tasks as their counterparts in commercial real estate. Similarly, he says, the work of military recruiters has a lot in common with sales.
Military experience teaches accountability and teamwork
Of veterans’ many transferable skills, accountability is one of the most valuable.
Service members have to hold themselves accountable to get the job done in what Disher calls a “zero-fail environment,” because “if you don't, people get hurt. The mission fails.”
Working in such high-stakes settings builds a strong team mentality: a huge asset for veterans who take civilian jobs as part of teams. They are used to relying on one another, and carry this approach forward in their post-military careers.
Similarly, Disher observes that service members are “conditioned from day one to understand their leader’s intent.” He adds that they learn to approach all of their work, whether in the military or outside, by asking: “‘What does the boss want to accomplish, [and] how do we accomplish that with the resources given to us … without failing?’”
This mindset also fosters resourcefulness, Disher says, because “if a Humvee breaks down in the desert and you don't have an automotive shop right there, you have to get that thing moving.”
Finally, he notes service members’ commitment to ongoing learning at every stage of their career, saying that “they come out of the military with that learner mindset, because every day in the military is a learning experience.”
In addition to the many hard and soft skills they bring to the workplace, veterans also represent the diversity of the U.S. armed forces. Job seekers with military experience are more diverse than the general population, bringing a variety of backgrounds and perspectives to their potential employers.
Disher believes hiring veterans is good for business all-around, even boosting employer brand: “America, as a whole, appreciates supporting companies and organizations that support their military,” he says.
Partnerships help recruit military-experienced job seekers
With nearly two decades in recruiting, Disher is just as comfortable working with employers as he is with military-experienced job seekers. To that end, he collaborates closely with everyone from hiring managers to company leaders to help them understand the benefits of hiring former service members. Disher also educates those he works with on the many benefits of hiring veterans to help them get buy-in from company leaders.
“Nothing does better inside of an organization than having the executive suite rooting for you,” he explains.
Planning and education are important ingredients for hiring, but ultimately, recruiters must be able to find the right applicants to make the right choice. Disher uses Indeed Targeted Ads to make sure his positions reach job seekers with military experience, while also building brand awareness within this group. With over 1.9 million job seekers with military experience on Indeed’s platform, products such as Sponsored Jobs help openings stand out from other job ads and, ultimately, attract better applicants.
“These are products that really allow me to build campaigns around specific jobs looking for specific people,” Disher explains. “I want every veteran who comes through [Indeed] to see [the jobs I’m posting].”
Military experience primes job seekers for success
Job seekers with military experience bring a variety of skills to any job. They can stay calm under pressure, have a strong work ethic and bring a learner’s mindset to career development.
What’s more, they know how to collaborate and understand their leaders’ goals. In addition to these soft skills, many veterans held military roles similar to civilian careers in a variety of fields — they just need to translate these skills on a resume.
“I think if a company is not pursuing military talent specifically,” Disher says, “they're missing out on a small piece of the population that is already very well polished to do virtually any job.”