Battlefield to boardroom: How military veterans are filling India Inc's talent needs
Brigadier HS Kaura (retd), a recipient of the Sena Medal for Gallantry and now Associate Partner, KPMG in India, joined the corporate world in early 2010 after his retirement, so as to stay professionally engaged in an environment that keeps him intellectually driven.
Many other military veterans make the switch to the corporate milieu at a much earlier age and their good health, immense passion for hard work, and willingness to explore new domains works wonders for them.
Roughly 60,000-70,000 military professionals, across all ranks, from the Indian Army, the Navy, the Air Force, and the Coast Guard - make the transition to the civilian sector every year, with a majority being in their 30s and 40s, whereas some are in their 50s.
Most look for opportunities in the corporate world and opportunities do abound, with companies increasingly looking for veterans to join in various domains. Today, ex-servicemen can be found all through the corporate sector - from manufacturing, aerospace, consulting, and finance, apart from the traditional areas of security.
“Private sector is increasingly realising that it is relatively easy to upskill somebody but qualities like sincerity, dedication, and integrity which are core to the veterans, takes a lot of rigour to develop. Employers value the pride and discipline ex-servicemen bring into the ethos of an organisation. I firmly believe we will continue to see the trend of veteran hiring rising in the future,” says Brigadier Kaura.
Transitioning from military to civilian life may seem a hard task, but the presence of military veterans across India Inc indicates otherwise.
“Careers in the forces makes one very adept to take up any challenge with sheer dedication... The key strength of a veteran is the natural ease of ‘handling/leading people’. Clarity of thought, clear understanding of tasks, and converging/leading a willing team with focus for timely mission accomplishment is a norm for a veteran,” says Brigadier Kaura.
Though they may employ different tools and skills, armed forces and businesses both require the same competencies in their leaders - that they make their teams effective.
“The veterans align with the shared vision of an organisation very fast and put their skin in the game. It’s very important for veterans to be ready to deal with authority in a highly matrixed structure and adapt to the ethos of acceptance of leaders who may be much younger in age. A more informal way of first name basis working environment is the order of the day in the corporate world. My advice to anyone planning to take the plunge is to be ready to accept the change with an open mind,” he adds.
What do military veterans bring to corporate workplaces?
Military veterans have priceless traits ingrained in them including self-discipline, ownership, and process-oriented thinking, among others, that are invaluable for a fast-paced work environment.
“Military veterans bring in a wealth of experience and diverse talents that are an incomparable addition to any company. At Amazon India, we are constantly looking for leaders who can invent, think big, have a bias for action, and deliver results... These principles resonate with the veterans who have served our country in the armed forces. Amazon customers benefit from diversity of thought and we found that military veterans’ experience in leading people, ability to make quick decisions and consistently deliver results are propelling our efforts to continuously deliver smiles to customers,” says Swati Rustagi, Director, Diversity Equity and Inclusion, International Markets, WW Consumer, Amazon.
Amazon India employs hundreds of military veterans who work in leadership and managerial roles, across operations networks such as customer fulfillment, facilities management, transportation and last mile logistics, among others.
Its Military Veterans Employment programme was launched in 2019 and has partnered with the Director-General of Resettlement, and placement agencies of all the three forces.
“In line with Amazon’s global vision of hiring 25,000 military veterans by 2025, we will continue to provide them with meaningful opportunities to further leverage their skillset. We have seen one of the fastest ramp up in terms of our veteran hiring versus industry benchmark,” says Rustagi
Filling the skill gap
Rustagi says they also have special programmes designed for Military Veterans such as Military Ambassador Program (MAP), which provides a network of support and tailored training experiences to support veterans in their transition to Amazon.
"We identify the critical components of MAP by researching military talent at Amazon and understanding their needs and challenges. With MAP, veterans are able to better leverage their military experience to lead their team, become more effective as leaders and executors, while also get a mental framework to navigate the career development and promotion process,” she adds.
Srikrishnan V, vice president and head, Vired for Business, Hero Vired says armed forces veterans can offer substantial value to a company as they bring in the right mix of discipline, dedication and productivity, which are critical skills.
However, with unprecedented technological advancements, "skilling and upskilling for them in new-age technologies is crucial as they can then transition into new-age tech roles and corporate jobs with ease, creating alternate avenues for employment upon retirement", he says.
Hero Vired, an edtech company for professionals and higher education aspirants, recently partnered with Text & Clicks Academy to upskill existing, retiring, and retired armed forces personnel, providing them access to highly technical programmes in Data Science, AI and ML that go beyond traditional vocational skills, says Srikrishnan.
Guide to successful transition to corporate world
For military veterans, the single biggest reason that enables them to excel in their second career is the ease of transition. But there are challenges here.
Rahul Sharma, business head at MilitarytoCorp (M2C), India’s first veteran hiring consulting firm, says many military veterans think that choosing a job is much like throwing an angle in the water, catching the first fish, and going back home for cooking. “That’s a disastrous approach when it comes to finding a job.”
A niche talent firm that focuses only on veteran talent, M2C has worked with more than 200 Fortune 500 and top brands in almost every industry in India offering solutions that help companies hire and retain the most talented, skilled and exceptional leaders from the military.
A vast majority of military veterans face various challenges during this transition journey, says Sharma, listing some of these as lack of knowledge, applying everywhere and accepting anything, not fitting 100% for any role, no certifications, a 'hit and trial' job hunt, higher rejection rate in interviews and resume shortlisting owing to lack of tech skills, lack of awareness of corporate interviews, no access to a a majority of opportunities existing only in a networked world, and so on.
Sharma contends that veterans should first be able to answer the ‘3Ps‘ of their transition priorities - Profile (The kind of career they want), Place (Which geographic coordinate suits their personal and professional goals), and Package (The compensation that fits with their career aspirations.)
"The next is to identify which two Ps are sacrosanct to you and which one you are willing to negotiate on. Based on this, you will be able to prepare yourself and take informed decisions regarding your career move," he adds.
Sharing strategies that can help military veterans achieve a career of their choice, Sharma says almost all need to upskill, irrespective of whether they seek a career which is based on skills they already have or want to go into a new career altogether, so "to add those relevant certifications to your inventory which make you more role-industry relevant”.
He suggests concentration on "transferable skills". "There are loads of skills in military life. Try to pick and concentrate on those skills which seem transferable to corporate life. Try by describing your military experiences in corporate language. For instance, if you trained over 300 people in some military-related task, think how that training preparation, delivery, and its final outcome could apply in a corporate boardroom setting or if you were a mechanical engineer involved with aircraft maintenance and servicing, then think about how you could use that skill in corporate manufacturing or operations job,” he says.
Using LinkedIn is another piece of advice as it "helps in networking, searching jobs and includes loads of career-building resources". “Start your search over LinkedIn. Most importantly, connect with recruiters and headhunters who focus on military to civilian transitions,” suggests Sharma.
It is also necessary to adapt to corporate culture and body language. Veterans should avoid using military jargon and learn the corporate language. "Also, address professional contacts by their first names instead of Sir or Ma'am,” says Sharma.
However, veterans should focus on their strengths as an ex-military person, such as individual accountability, impeccable execution, precise communication, and leadership, and should showcase these during the corporate interview, he says.
Networking is key as recruiters are bombarded with loads of resumes and finding a position through job portals is tedious and difficult. “To rise above the noise, you should start networking right away. Begin with veterans working in the corporate world. But don't rush to ask for a job, rather take time to know them and get their suggestions on how they approached their transition. Later on, you can ask them about any job openings in the company they work in,” he suggests.