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Island Investing

Riffs, rants, and the upside of investing from way off Wall Street


Put on Some Risk. Hire a Veteran.

From the article “Unemployment for Young Vets: 30% and Rising” today in Bloomberg:

Why would someone coming out of military service have a harder time finding a job? Think about the demographics of a young soldier. Most are men, and unemployment is worse now for men: 9.5 percent in October vs. 8.5 percent for women. Younger vets are coming right out of high school; the job market punishes those with less education. Many vets come from and return to rural and rust-belt areas that are struggling. And the cut-throat competition for jobs has been hardest on those out of work the longest; fair or not, eight years in the Army is viewed by some employers as eight years without private-sector skills and experience.

I think there are at least three points worth making here.

1 – For young people, the military is the single best “jobs program” this country ever developed.

2 – You can’t train integrity. Or as Warren Buffett once said:

“…in looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if they don’t have the first, the other two will kill you.”

3 – Once upon a time a few brave civilians took on some risk by hiring this particular veteran – thanks to a considerable amount of behind-the-scenes help from my own veteran buddies. I’d like to think it was, as much as I hate this phrase, “win-win.” Those jobs changed my life immensely, and I helped make those companies better, too.

And for anyone currently in the service who might be reading this, here are a few of my own observations about getting out and going to work in the private sector a dozen years ago.

A – Most of corporate America won’t get you. At least, not at first. That point in the quote above about veterans not being hired because they’re viewed as not having any relevant experience is dead-on. The thing is, though, is that while that may be true, after a few weeks at a new job, it also becomes completely irrelevant. And that is because…

B – There is a critical shortage of people in the business world who are, quite simply, unable to get things done. You will be amazed.

C – Concepts like accountability, honor and integrity are completely absent from many workplace cultures. You can’t swing a dead cat in the financial services industry, for instance, without hitting someone who believes those concepts are outdated, quaint, or cliched. Do not go to work for one of those people. Ever. No matter what.

D – When they ask you in the interview, your strengths are your work ethic, your belief that systems not people are the stars, your experience working on high-performing teams, and your ability to self-motivate. Your weaknesses are that you don’t know how to dress and you like your hair short. That hair thing is an easy fix, but lordy, please take that label off the sleeve of your suit jacket. And just know that they’re probably going to initially assume you’re an uncreative, rigid drone who loves tobacco, swearing and blowing things up. That’s their problem.

It’s probably too late to ask that we replace the parades with job fairs this year. But if you run or manage a business, and find yourself in the position of being able to bring on a new hire the next year or two, here’s to hoping you think hard about including veterans in your search, too. I’m biased, but I think veterans are easily the most undervalued assets in the world of human capital. And these guys have certainly earned it.

Happy Veterans Day.