There’s More to Military Hiring Programs than Recruiting Junior Military Officers (JMO’s)

I ran across a recent article entitled “Officer vs. Enlisted: Does Rank Matter in Corporate America?” written by Michael Dakduk, Deputy Executive Director of Student Veterans of America and a former Sergeant in the Marine Corps.  He reviewed the career web sites of a number of companies that are well known and regarded as being “military friendly” employers.  Of those that had some kind of dedicated military career page, time and again the sites beckoned Junior Military Officers (those service members in the grades of O-1 through O-3) to join the team.  These web sites extolled how desirable this subset of the veteran population is, and why the company wanted to hire them.

When I am consulting with companies that are just starting a military hiring initiative, and the client brings up the topic of recruiting JMO’s, I ask them to explain why they are interested in hiring JMO’s.  Often times, they don’t have a specific reason beyond what they have heard about the quality of JMO hires.  Oftentimes they mention that they saw the article Fortune Magazine ran in March that featured several JMO’s who went on to successful careers with Pepsi Co, Wal-Mart and GE, so they want to replicate that kind of success in their company.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I love JMO’s (I was one…a hundred years ago).   They have many fine qualities and are exceptionally good candidates.  Before starting a military hiring initiative, I think companies need to step back and examine what skills and traits they are looking to hire in order to determine which service members are most likely to possess those qualities.  Taking the time to align desired skill sets with demonstrated levels of responsibility and appropriate salary expectations may lead the company to realize that the most appropriate candidates may in fact be the significantly larger pool of non-commissioned officers (those service members in the grades of E-5 through E-9), or NCO’s.

Let’s review:

  • NCO’s have between 6-20+ years of military service and have been performing the day-to-day tasks of their occupation for the majority of that time;
  • Roughly 14% of enlisted active duty service members completed at least an Associate’s degree or higher in Fiscal Year 2009 (latest statistics recorded), and this doesn’t even cover the educational level of those serving in the National Guard or Reserves;
  • They are held to the same levels of personal and fiscal accountability in their military service as the JMO’s (and I would argue they are held to an even higher level than a JMO); and perhaps most importantly,
  • The NCO’s are the people who trained the JMO’s.

Any JMO worth his/her salt will confirm that NCO’s are trusted advisors and have the authority and capability to carry out the guidance provided.  NCO’s have the direct responsibility to train the service members entrusted to them, and are responsible for ensuring the junior enlisted members welfare and maintaining good order and discipline so the unit can accomplish its mission as a team.  The JMO is the beneficiary of a decade or more of hard-earned experience.  No NCO wants a knucklehead for a commanding officer, so it is in his/her best interest to offer the wisdom and guidance that will develop that JMO into an effective leader.

In a purely civilian environment, it is not unheard of that a team will (gleefully) watch a senior member “go down in flames” just to make it easier to get rid of them.  The stakes are quite different in a military environment, particularly a combat environment.  There is a sense of duty and obligation to make sure that leader is competent and “squared away” because people’s lives are on the line.  The NCO’s will make it thus.

So, employers:  When developing your recruitment strategy, don’t forget the outstanding qualities of the non-commissioned officers.  Make sure your recruitment marketing message isn’t turning away some of the best and brightest that our military has to offer.