Corporate take: Humana
Veterans tend to have a "strong sense of structure" and respect, says Kevin Stakelum, talent acquisition director at Humana. "Veterans are very familiar with a lot of the values that we value: honor and commitment and service. Those are requirements, really, for a lot of our positions, and the [veterans] that we hire demonstrate those qualities," he says.
Rawlings had expertise in networking, but the military networks she worked on have many more components than civilian systems. Among other things, they might incorporate technology called Blue Force Tracking, a GPS-based system for identifying forces in the field. "It was hard to make all these other devices I was working with sound applicable" in a civilian setting, Rawlings says.
She succeeded, receiving an offer from Humana shortly after she separated from the Army. That was a relief, given the high jobless rate among veterans and the fact that they often face long periods of unemployment.
At Humana, Rawlings is on the team that provides security consulting services to business unit leaders. "When they have a business function that needs to happen, we make sure they achieve their goals securely," she says.
In terms of soft skills, "the Army is a fantastic place to find people who can tell nontechnical people why technology is important," Rawlings says, adding that she believes that capability is equally valuable in military and civilian settings.
Military experience: U.S. Air Force, 1985-1998, noncommissioned officer. Specialized in electronics intelligence for the Air Force Space Command; served in Colorado, Nebraska, Spain and Italy.
Civilian role: IT manager (responsible for 18 project managers) at Progressive Casualty Insurance Co., Cleveland
As both a veteran and as a manager who has veterans reporting to him, Dennis Thoma says military experience teaches two concepts that are key to IT: the need for strong security and the importance of solid project management.
Security in particular is in the military's DNA, Thoma points out. "When you start to look at securing networks, securing data, those times when you're transferring encrypted data, even Sarbanes-Oxley -- a lot of that was new at one point to the civilian world and to IT."
Corporate take: Progressive
Progressive Insurance recruiting manager Connie Dingeman, who herself served in the U.S. Army for eight years, praises veterans' ability to adapt. "These are people used to moving from place to place, changing jobs every 12 months," she says.
"Beyond that, for us, leadership is a key component. We have hired a lot of ex-military into leadership roles where someone else might have been hired into a more entry-level position. And they're mission-oriented, which fits well with Progressive -- we want that sense of clear goals and objectives."
In contrast, the military has been focusing on security for "a long time," he says. "They've understood hacking for years and years."
Thoma himself came out of the Air Force with significant experience in worldwide program management, a skill he says translates easily to companies that do business with the Department of Defense -- but somewhat less so to mainstream corporate operations. For that reason, he picked up Project Management Professional (PMP) certification following his discharge, a move he recommends to veterans as a way of validating that their military skills will cross over to the civilian side.
Military experience: U.S. Naval Academy, Class of 2005. U.S. Navy, 2005-2011; surface warfare officer, served as first lieutenant on a cruiser and as navigator on a frigate, both out of Mayport Naval Station; deployed to the Horn of Africa, Persian Gulf and the western coast of South America.
Civilian role: Member of the sales and marketing development program at Siemens Energy Inc., Jackson, Miss.
After 10 years in the Navy, Jimmy Lamz was ready for a change. With a wife and two young children, he didn't want to deploy again. Yet the economy was in shambles and, as a soldier, he had no experience with unemployment. Unlike civilian job-changers, who can wait for the hiring market to improve before leaving their current employers, U.S. Navy personnel are required to indicate nearly a year out that they plan to ask for a discharge.
"Once you say you're going to get out, you're out," Lamz says. "It's a gut-wrenching decision to have to make."
Lamz set to work trying to translate a decade's worth of highly skilled military experience into layman's terms, which was "kind of a scary," he says. "Some skills translate [easily] and some don't." Then, at a career fair, he made contact with Orion International, a recruiting firm that specializes in military placements, and Orion put him in touch with Siemens Corp., which has a well-established veterans hiring program. Problem solved.
Lamz graduated from the Naval Academy in 2005 with a degree in IT, but the course of study was heavy on engineering as well, something Lamz admits he was not particularly gung-ho about at the time. "I took thermodynamics, electrical engineering, [calculus] and physics alongside more computer-science-type courses like networking and other IT-type classes," he recalls. "I thought of the engineering as 'nice to have' -- I never guessed in a million years that I'd wind up working for an engineering company, and that I'd be working in sales."
Corporate take: Siemens
"There's a general perception that veterans need to be told what to do, but in fact it's the opposite," says Mike Brown, senior director of talent acquisition at Siemens Corp. "They're used to having a high level of autonomy and accountability, and making decisions quickly in a crisis. If you're the only person on site when a [Siemens] turbine or a generator goes down, you're going to need that kind of discipline to handle the situation correctly."
The fit makes sense, though, he says. In the Navy, he gained experience working with the gas turbines that turn ships' propellers, for example. In his first three months at Siemens, he assessed markets for gas turbines in South America, looking at both economic fundamentals and technical requirements.
Culturally, Lamz is discovering what many a civilian IT employee already knows: In corporate settings, procedures aren't always clearly defined, and goals aren't always definitively set. That's a big change from the military, Lamz says, where "there's a structured procedure for everything from greasing a bearing to getting a haircut."
Beyond that, it took a little work to exorcise certain phrases from his vocabulary. "A senior person would say, 'Call me Joe,'" Lamz relates with a laugh, "and I'd say, 'Can't I call you Joe Sir?'"
Next page: Hear from Microsoft...and what military skills mean for business...