Three Common Military Stereotypes

I’ve heard them all. Between consulting with employers regarding the advantages of hiring military, to hearing stories from those service members
I’ve placed in the civilian world, to my own personal experiences transitioning into the civilian sector, I’ve heard military stereotypes that run the gamut from John Wayne to Rambo to more recently The Hurt Locker.

Most military stereotypes are thankfully not as extreme as these movie characters. However, the perceptions can be detrimental nonetheless. Below are the three common military stereotypes I run across most frequently.

  • Military lead from positional authority. The military certainly teaches discipline and the importance of following directives. However, the best military leaders I have experienced are motivational leaders. The programs for top performers in the military set the “people bar” high. These high performance teams will not simply respond to “orders” – they require leaders who are totally committed to their success. Similarly, low performers can’t be “fired” in the same way as civilians – creative methods to help turn around a unit’s weak performer are often required.
  • Military are overly dependent on structure and procedures. Yes, the military has procedures, check-lists and protocols but the military’s top talent must be creative to make key decisions when the original plan goes awry. Because there is frequently no time in the field to wait for approval from a central authority, military leaders are taught to take responsibility, rely on their training and think on their feet.
  • Military will not put down roots here. Service members spend much of their time separated from their families. When they leave the service the government provides a final move. Military job seekers can move back to their home of record, but for many, this is their parent’s home. Many would rather invest in making a new home with their new employer. This is their one move and they have invested in their new employer and their community.

Stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason – certainly there are some military members that may display less-than-desirable traits. But if any employer assumes that the majority of military job seekers do, they will miss out on a great talent pool. Not everyone is a good fit for every company, military or otherwise, but make sure that your company is not making fit judgments based on stereotypes.

Bobby Whitehouse

Image courtesy Chris Drumm