America’s Heroes – Celebrate, then Hire

With Veterans Day comes a lot of buzz about how companies are hiring America’s Heroes. These efforts are not only admirable, but essential. Our veterans have served their country and deserve an opportunity to continue their career as a civilian.

As a veteran – both Army enlisted and now a retired Navy Reserve Public Affairs Officer – I know first-hand how military experience in the communications world is some of the best and most relevant for organizations looking to hire communications leaders.

In spite of that, when presenting candidates with military experience – especially if they are just transitioning out of the military – I tend to get significant pushback from corporate leaders.  Stereotypes or preconceived notions often prevail. In fact, during one of my own job interviews after leaving the military, I was asked, “Based on your significant military experience, what makes you think you would be successful in a collaborative environment like ours?”

Was I shocked at the question? Yes. But, more importantly, I was shocked by my realization that the myth of the military as a pure authoritarian was alive and well. As the former director of a public affairs team, in my experience, all our work was driven by a collaborative team effort. I’m grateful to have had a chance to (hopefully) dispel her misguided assumption.

So I’d like to take this Veterans Day to share a few insights into former military PAOs and what they can do for your organization. This isn’t just my opinion. I asked a couple of my military brethren to share their thoughts too.

“I got exposed to some pretty heavy issues early on in my career that a lot of my colleagues – both in-house and across agencies – simply have never experienced. Communicators often work in environments with a high level of informational uncertainty. And everyone’s watching. So when you’re in charge of your organization’s public reputation, exhibiting leadership is big deal,” said Paul Cabellon, Senior Manager Corporate Communications at Intellectual Ventures and former Marine PAO. “Being a Marine trained me to do a lot with very little; that training has helped me be very strategic – very smart – about the way I design publicity campaigns or make recommendations to the C-Suite on hot issues.”

Bill Salvin leads Signal Bridge, a successful crisis communications and media training firm. He has served both on active duty and is currently a Navy Reserve PAO. “I learned how to deal with adversity really well and that skill comes in quite handy. The other skill that I learned is to be able to work with whomever shows up. I do a lot of crisis comms work for companies and being able to join a team quickly, figure out which way the team is pulling and help them move in that direction has been an incredible boost to my career. Military PAOs are by necessity flexible, adaptable folks. It’s a big advantage.”

As you think about filling your communications leadership roles, here’s another plus when it comes to our PAO vets. For companies with corporate headquarters and operational facilities such as utilities, oil companies, manufacturers, shipping, transportation, etc., you get someone who is comfortable in both an operational environment and a headquarters environment.

For organizations that may not have the large budgets of a Fortune 500, you’ll have someone who is very capable of navigating a resource-constrained environment and maximizing their impact.

When it comes to a breadth of communications experience, military PAOs are accustomed to speaking to both internal and external audiences during crisis and change, as well as to promote various initiatives. Because the majority of the internal audience is between the ages of 18-25, a PAO must be well-versed in creatively communicating using traditional, digital and social media.

When speaking to external stakeholders, a PAO is ensuring the people they serve are accurately informed. Bill said, “By law we HAVE to share bad news and because of that we tend to be very good when a company may have to share less than stellar news with shareholders, employees, customers or community leaders.”

So in honor of Veterans Day, don’t just say thank you for serving, take another look at that former PAO resume and invite that candidate in for an interview. The result may be an exceptional new communications team member.