As military leaders transition into the civilian workforce, it is not uncommon to hear both an employer and the hired veteran express frustrations that may stem from a disconnect in culture and understanding. Rarely is this due to the veteran’s lack of hard skills; instead, it more likely reflects the different paths and experiences that brought the veteran and the employer to their current roles.
I recently had the opportunity to connect with a very driven and dedicated corporate leader with a passion to instill greater understanding between veterans and corporate leadership by working together to overcome shared challenges. Christian Anschuetz chairs the newly-created Project RELO which he describes in greater detail below:
VSB: Christian, what made you decide to launch Project RELO?
Anschuetz: Since leaving the Marine Corps as a Captain in 1997, I have had a varied and rewarding post-military career in the private sector. Sadly, my experience and career trajectory is atypical. I know very few peer executives that have served in our armed forces. I do, however, know many a veteran (both officer and enlisted) that has struggled to find a career in corporate America after leaving the military.
The reasons are numerous – from inaccurate mental models that typecast military members as hardcore command and control operators – to the stigma of PTSD which so many wrongly assume all vets now suffer. Still, the most omnipresent issue is that corporations fail to understand the wealth and nature of experience that our vets possess. And with HR policies and practices that immediately screen out those lacking college degrees and “appropriate” industry experience, many veterans find themselves swimming upstream.
There are many nonprofit organizations established to serve the veteran community; there are precious few that are working to help companies realize that they can build a better business if they infuse their workforce with the skills, background and character offered by our vets.
We sought to address this need using a unique approach to bring talent-hungry firms together with this great, under utilized, pool of talent – our veterans. Project RELO was the result.
Project RELO aspires to transform corporate America’s perspective on the value and character of our veterans through intensive and immersive business leadership training exercises.
Project RELO aspires to transform corporate America’s perspective on the value and character of our veterans through intensive and immersive business leadership training exercises. We do this by pairing small teams of executives with transitioning vets using an exhilarating, outdoor and off-road leadership curriculum. Run like a military operation, participants bond over both scripted and unscripted adversity, forging deep and meaningful relationships as they are forced to rely upon one another to achieve shared objectives.
The veterans, domain experts in these environments, capably demonstrate their knowledge, selflessness, mission orientation and ethic, giving corporate executives the chance to experience this first-hand, and bringing about a gradual change in mindset about the quality and capacity of our veterans.
When the Project RELO exercise is completed, participants are presented with the profiles of 100 veterans they will collectively commit to place in their network. With the intent of ensuring that as many of the 100 vets are hired, the newly formed network collaborates with the new understanding…that hiring a vet is more than a social good, it is simply good business.
Since our formal inception at the beginning of this year, we have attracted representatives from both large enterprises and mid-market firms; these include participants from Microsoft, LinkedIn, Northwestern Mutual, RL Canning, and others. And, of course, we are just getting started.
VSB: How would you describe Project RELO and the impact this experience has had on those who participate?
Anschuetz: Project RELO can be described in several ways, yet two of my favorite descriptions are:
As a relationship boot camp – where low level adversity (although perceived adversity ranges from moderate to high) combined with environmental conditions, create a natural, immediate chemistry and “glue” that forges lasting bonds between participants that carry forward into their personal and professional lives.
Second, it is also an executive and veteran confidence course. Business leaders find pride and satisfaction in overcoming the challenges that occur naturally as part of a Project RELO mission. In our everyday lives, we rarely experience negative physical consequences of poor decisions, inaction, or failing to heed the advice of a team member in our respective workplaces. On our missions, however, people can get cold, wet, or hungry if they fail to work with, and listen to, the collective team. Overcoming these challenges during the Project RELO mission creates a strong sense of accomplishment and builds executive confidence.
Participating veterans may initially see business leaders and ask “What do I have to offer them?” During a Project RELO mission, veterans’ domain expertise allows them to help the executives navigate some of the challenges they face. This demonstrates to the vets, in a palpable and direct fashion, that they do, in fact, have a lot to offer these private sector leaders. And, of course, the conditions and environment warrant that the veterans see the business leaders simply as the people that they really are. This demystifies the corporate executives, builds veterans’ confidence in their ability to interact with people of such position in the future and helps vets lessen their “fears” of the interview process.
We have seen tangible, meaningful acknowledgement by executive participants that they now possess an entirely new appreciation for our veterans. Stated many times over that “I am just amazed at the competence and helpfulness of our veteran team member”, or “our transitioning vet could figure out the answer to any problem we encountered”. And best yet, “I need to hire people like these vets into my company”. The end result is the realization that the selflessness, mission orientation, and skill of our vets are valuable in virtually every context.
The end result is the realization that the selflessness, mission orientation, and skill of our vets are valuable in virtually every context.
Since our two Project RELO proof of concept missions in 2015, connections between participants continue. For veterans and business leaders alike, virtually all have stayed in regular contact with one another. On the business front, three businesses that had never done any work together before have recently inked a strategic partnership designed to give them a better position in the marketplace; this further illustrates that Project RELO is doing more than a social good… it is simply good business.
VSB: How do you think military leaders in transition can help dispel the myths that travel with them to job interviews or once they are in the workforce?
Anschuetz: There are a few basic things that veterans can do to help them land civilian careers. I would advise vets to consider the following:
- Drop the jargon: Avoid acronyms and military lingo; it is often a put-off and/or intimidating.
- It’s all about relevance – Clearly state the relevant experience and background that you have; align it specifically to what the target audience needs. And do this fast.
- Skip the “sirs” and “ma’ams” – Similar to jargon, the use of this manner of speech comes off as foreign to most interviewers and employment prospects.
- Lead with loyalty and team – While corporate America struggles with both, hiring managers want to hire those that will be loyal. Ensure that comes out.
- Maintain and infuse your pride – Be proud of your service to our country, and convey that passion and earnestness to would-be employers. Firms and hiring managers want people that believe in what they do. Show them you have a track record in that department.
- It’s all about the “mission” – In the end, employers want to hire people that get <stuff> done. Illustrate your track record of overcoming significant obstacles through your use of creativity and ingenuity; describe cases where, despite the odds, you achieved important outcomes or milestone. (Just remember to avoid the jargon!)
More strategically, I would ask veterans to immediately begin building their civilian professional network. This can be started long before a military member leaves the service as everyone is fully able to maintain contact with those that separate before them. By seeking out, and connecting with, business leaders who are also veterans they can build a network that could help ease their transition from an employment perspective. I know I personally take calls from former Marines who reach out to me. Semper Fi is forever.
VSB: Project RELO suggests that firms hire for character – what does that mean?
Anschuetz: We propose that hiring managers and veterans start their discussions around the topic of character. The reason is that, while 90+% of hiring decision are made based on some technical qualification (college degree, years of industry experience, etc.), 90+% of terminations from a firm are the result of character failure (poor work ethic, integrity issues, inability to team, et al). Firms that hire for character first get better employees, pure and simple.
At Project RELO, we have moved away from the traditional resume and have moved to what we call the Character Profile. This approach allows vets to relate their character AND experience in a fashion that intuitively makes sense to readers while highlighting that which makes them a valuable asset. Among other things, the character profile enables vets to highlight what they know, the skills and talents they use to achieve success, lessons learned and what they can do to help a would-be employer.
VSB: For those companies unable to participate in the team-building experience through Project RELO, what advice would you provide to help build greater team orientation within the workplace?
Anschuetz: In addition to direction participation, there are three avenues through which to support this cause and purpose:
First, we welcome interested firms to take a pledge to help us engage transitioning vets. Specifically, Project RELO and our partner, Hire Heroes USA, will supply businesses with prepared resumes that firms can use to source talent for new or open positions. By taking the pledge, a firm simply commits that it will engage some number of veterans (as determined by the firm itself), hire those they are able, and / or provide us with feedback as to how our vet applicants can improve their chances going forward and with their next potential employer.
Project RELO is also developing the capability to provide “Fused Leadership”, onsite training. By taking great examples of both corporate and military leaders, and fusing them into a single coherent program, Project RELO endeavors to help organizations improve their overall leadership skills while simultaneously highlighting the talent pool found with our veterans.
Lastly, we continue to seek corporate sponsorships to enable us to continue our work. We are a 100% volunteer-operated organization and completely self-funded. Funds that are eventually raised in 2016 will enable us to expand the program beyond its current operations in Michigan. If your company is interested in becoming a part of this program, please reach out and let us know. Visit us at www.projectrelo.org to learn more.
Christian Anschuetz is Chairman of Project RELO and is a two-tour active duty veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He currently serves as CIO of Underwriters Laboratories outside of Chicago.