Every hiring manager is on the lookout for the ambitious and hard-working employee who has the leadership skills to help take the company to the next level. That high-quality hire can be found in an unexpected place: the military veteran transitioning from the armed forces to civilian life.

Don’t be fooled by stereotypes or misconceptions. Many people think that military veterans are too structured or rigid. People believe veterans’ experience is black and white and they don’t do well in the gray areas common in business. The opposite is closer to the truth. Military personnel are asked to do more with less on a regular basis. Consider a team of soldiers dropped off in the middle of nowhere with only the tools they can carry on their backs. They must fix or repair a variety of different vehicles and equipment in the field without the assets they normally would need for such tasks. Oftentimes, in dangerous situations, soldiers learn that the plan is often the first thing to go. That means being able to think on their feet; that means being flexible.

The intangibles, a.k.a. the “soft skills,” are what set military people apart. Military veterans show their leadership ability by being selfless and thinking in terms of the mission and the team. Those transitioning from the armed forces have leadership traits any manager would be eager to have on their team: unflappable, goal-oriented, honest and mature. In addition to oversight ability, veterans have extensive hands-on capabilities in electro-mechanical technology as well as direct, relatable project management and construction management experience.

As expected of top-notch employees with leadership potential, military personnel are looking for a career, not a job. They seek companies that offer a clear path for upward mobility and engagement in the work. Tech-savvy companies and up-and-coming firms are the most attractive to a transitioning military veteran. Company culture and communication are key. Military veterans expect to know their own job, their boss’s job and the job of their direct reports, giving them a full understanding of the big picture.

To hire and retain military candidates, organizations should approach benefits and compensation as an educational process. Those fresh out of the military have never had to deal with a benefits plan that wasn’t fully paid. Transitioning military personnel have never been paid overtime. They need to learn that working more leads to advancement. On the other hand, the hiring manager must understand how compensation works in the military. A salary offer that is comparable to someone’s military rank is likely to seem low. In addition to pay, the armed forces provide housing subsidies and 100% of health coverage, benefits that are not typical in the civilian/corporate workforce.

Military personnel are exposed to leadership challenges and opportunities much earlier than civilians. Civilians in the same age group do not have nearly the same level of leadership experience. For example, one former military veteran entered the Marines at 19. By age 21, he was shift manager of a maintenance department with 21 people. When looking to hire a transitioning military person, leadership skills and experience is where the real pay-off can be found.

Are you a military veteran transitioning to the civilian workplace? Comment below and an Associate with our Military Transition Division will get in touch with you.